Facebook commits to paying 'contingent' workers affected by corporate coronavirus response

Jonathan Shieber and Alex Wilhelm

Last night, in a move that all companies should look to emulate, Microsoft announced that it would continue to pay hourly workers impacted by office closures as the company responds to the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

Now, Facebook appears to be following suit, according to a statement from the company:

“We are working closely with our vendors to ensure we prioritize our team’s health and safety. Facebook will pay contingent workers that cannot work due to reduced staffing requirements during voluntary work from home, when we close an office, when we choose to send an employee home, or when they are sick,” Chloe Meyere, a Facebook company spokesperson wrote in an email.

In a blog post announcing Microsoft's decision, company President Brad Smith wrote:

“While the work to protect public health needs to speed up, the economy can’t afford to slow down. We’re committed as a company to making pubic health our first priority and doing what we can to address the economic and social impact of COVID-19. We appreciate that what’s affordable for a large employer may not be affordable for a small business, but we believe that large employers who can afford to take this type of step should consider doing so.”

Several tech companies have asked employees to work from home in places where COVID-19 cases have been identified, like Washington state and California, including GoogleLyft and Square. Concerns about the COVID-19 have also led to the cancellations of major events, like Mobile World Congress and Google’s I/O developer conference.

Tech companies have created a dual-class worker system in recent years, keeping their more technical and product-oriented staff as full-time workers for the main company, while exporting elements of labor to third-party companies. This nigh-class-based system has raised both eyebrows and ire, especially when tech's famous buses were under public attack. Moving to comp more, or all workers is not only good PR, though it is also that, it's simply good ethics.

Perhaps the current situation will help more tech companies bring more of their workforce in-house. Whether it's Alphabet's dependence on temps, Facebook's outsourcing of moderating work, or just hiring other companies to staff their operations, there's probably too much internal outsourcing going on. But at least hourly folks aren't going to take a pay cut during a pandemic. A low bar, and not one that all tech companies have cleared so far, but a better step than nothing at all.