Blue-collar employees, such as grocery store cashiers, mechanics, construction workers, electricians, plumbers, and truck drivers were labeled essential workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The reward was a place on the front lines and regular contact with the public. While blue-collar workers regularly put their health and well-being at risk during the pandemic, the majority of their white-collar counterparts such as lawyers and accountants were able to gently migrate to the safety of remote setups.
“The past three years have shed light on health concerns within the blue-collar sector,” says Jason LaMonica, COO of Spec On The Job. “Today, employers are working to find ways to keep their employees healthy.”
Blue-collar jobs cannot protect employees by offering remote work
A Gallup study reveals that, at Covid’s peak, 72% of white-collar workers worked remotely, while only 14% of blue-collar workers enjoyed the same luxury. Even after a return to normalcy, hybrid and remote work is still trending in white-collar workplaces as top talent has increasingly been drawn to the increased flexibility and work/life balance of remote work.
“Even though blue-collar work offers its own kind of freedom in opportunities for self-employment, contract work, and flexible scheduling, blue-collar workers continue to look for remote opportunities in white-collar fields,” says Lamonica. “Companies are doing what they can to offer flexibility, but our industry is driven by hands-on production, strict timelines, and many other factors that make remote work impossible.”
Indeed, by nature, most blue-collar industries cannot offer remote work as employees providing construction, manufacturing, food, and other physically-demanding services must be present. But 2023 is bringing increased flexibility to these industries as organizations begin to offer blue-collar workers benefits like greater autonomy in work schedules and increased paid sick leave.
Employers address health concerns posed by on-site blue-collar jobs
The US is currently facing a triple threat from flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and new Covid variants. In a sector already strapped for workers, blue-collar employers are concerned about mounting absences.
Airborne viruses more easily spread when blue-collar employees work together in confined spaces and share equipment. “In light of the current number of absences, employers are repositioning employees and relying heavily on contractors and third-party staffing providers,” Lamonica observes. “But the most significant shift I see in blue-collar industries are employers encouraging their employees to stay home instead of fighting through an illness.”
The US government does not require employers to provide paid sick leave since the amount of paid time off (PTO) employees receive is highly dependent on the field. Historically, white-collar industries have provided more PTO than blue-collar and service professions.
On average, first-year professional and technical employees receive 10 paid vacation days each year, whereas blue-collar and service employees receive only 6.8 days. In the hotel and food sectors, 32% of employees say they have no paid time off, and only 15% report staying home when sick.
Today, even blue-collar jobs that pay by the hour are beginning to draft new sick leave policies, setting new expectations for workers who test positive for Covid or wake up with the flu. Some are even offering increased sick leave so their workers don’t have to choose between coming in sick or staying home without pay.
Lamonica firmly believes that the flexibility to address health needs in the blue-collar sector has to come from two places — management and the public. “Blue-collar employees work directly with consumers every day. In order to give them the flexibility to stay home when they are sick, people need to offer a little more patience. Flu season may find people waiting a little longer in doctor’s offices or for packages to arrive. Being gracious is the best way the public can offer flexibility to the essential workers who serve them without the luxury of remote work.”