Protecting employees during uncertain times

COVID-19 Policy Analysis: As our nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, OK Policy will be analyzing state and federal policies that impact our state and its residents during this national health emergency. These posts reflect the most current information available at publication, and we will update or publish follow-ups as new information becomes available.

NOTE: OK Policy is not a state agency and we cannot assist in applying for state services or provide legal advice.

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During the past few days, nearly all public and private organizations have had scramble and adapt in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. OK Policy’s leadership team met last week and made the determination that we needed to take action to help protect our staff’s health, as well as to minimize community spreading of the COVID-19 virus.

We immediately moved to telecommuting for our staff and interns throughout the state. We put in motion communications protocols for staying in touch. We postponed all of our planned events and now are working on how to carry them out in a virtual space. We have re-focused our work to examine state and federal policies that can be of most value during times of crisis like this. We also re-emphasized our existing policies for paid leave and flexible work schedules to help our staff members care for themselves and loved ones.

I am appreciative that our organization has in place people-first policies that support our employees, especially in times of crisis. However, as our recent paper “Valuing Work” noted, too few Oklahomans — especially low-wage workers — have protections like paid sick leave or paid family and medical leave.

Nearly three-fourths of all workers have access to paid sick days, while only about one-third (31 percent) of workers in the bottom 10 percent of earners do. Even fewer workers (17 percent) have access to paid family and medical leave. During an illness of a few days or for a longer-term situation, access to paid leave is critical to families’ economic security, especially for low-wage workers.

During an illness of a few days or for a longer-term situation, low-wage workers are unable to absorb the income loss. As a result, many of these workers often are not taking time off, even when they really need it. The loss of income would be devastating to many low-wage workers if work places are shut down due to health concerns.

As I write this, federal lawmakers are exploring policies that include immediate paid sick leave and paid family leave, expanded unemployment insurance, vital nutrition aid, more Medicaid funds for states, and free COVID-19 testing and treatment. This bill is far from all the nation needs to address the pandemic and the economic shock it is causing, but it is an essential start.

After government officials evaluate their responses in the aftermath of this crisis, it will be important for them to consider making these policies permanent. That time will come. For now, please join me in thanking those who are working in the health care fields and other essential services during these uncertain times.


Ahniwake Rose served as OK Policy's Executive Director from September 2019 to June 2022. Immediately prior to joining OK Policy, she served as deputy director and interim executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, the most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the broad interests of tribal governments and communities. Born and raised in Oklahoma, she is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and also of Muscogee (Creek) descent.

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