Labor & Business

Boardman: Survey sheds light on how Rhode Island employers are responding to COVID-19

As Rhode Island continues to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, how are employers responding? New data sheds light on this question, offering insights on Rhode Island business activity amid COVID-19 – and how it compares nationwide.
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Published on February 22, 2022
By Andy Boardman

As Rhode Island continues to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, how are employers responding?

New data sheds light on this question, offering insights on Rhode Island business activity amid COVID-19 – and how it compares nationwide. The information comes from a recently-published survey fielded in the summer and fall of 2021 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, providing a nationally-representative snapshot of private-sector practices at that time toward pay raises, remote work, employee vaccination and more. 

Here are three key things to know.

1. Three in ten Rhode Island employers raised pay or offered bonuses as a result of the pandemic

As employers rush to rehire after the unprecedented layoffs of 2020, many have found it challenging to secure workers. One solution businesses are turning to: Increasing pay. As of last fall, one in six Rhode Island employers had raised base wage rates as a result of the pandemic; four percent had offered signing bonuses. A similar amount had offered hazard pay or bonuses for those working amid COVID-19 at some point during the pandemic. In all, three in ten employers have offered at least one form of pay raises.

Put differently, seven in ten Rhode Island employers have not raised pay as a result of the pandemic — even as three in four business executives in the state say they are suffering from worker shortages, according to a recent Providence Business News survey of business executives.

Still, although a minority of firms have increased compensation, those companies together employ a majority of Rhode Island workers: The 30% of pay-raising businesses represent 56% of the state’s workforce — suggesting large companies have been more willing and able to offer better pay.

2. Work-from-home is still widespread

Just over half of working Rhode Islanders are employed in establishments where at least some employees were teleworking in the summer and fall of last year. An almost equal number – 47% of workers – are in organizations that rarely or never telework. The prevalence of remote work is similar at the nationwide level.

Of the Rhode Island employers that increased telework because of COVID-19, two in three expect to continue offering enhanced remote work options once the pandemic subsides.

3. Employee vaccine mandates are not the norm

In the summer and fall of last year, 24% of Rhode Island businesses required employees to obtain COVID-19 vaccines before coming to work. While vaccine mandates are far from the norm in Rhode Island workplaces, they are more common in Rhode Island than nationally – across the country, just 18% of employers had vaccine requirements at the time of the survey.

Mask requirements were more common: A majority of businesses in Rhode Island, 63%, mandated employee mask-wearing, similar to the nationwide average of 58%.

Other notable datapoints from the survey:

  • Three percent of Rhode Island establishments used WorkShare, the state short-term compensation program enabling employers to cut payroll costs without laying off workers, during the pandemic
  • Less than two percent of Rhode Island establishments use self-serve kiosks, like those used to order and pay for food at a restaurant or self-checkout at a grocery store
  • One in ten Rhode Island employers screen job applicants or current employees for drug use. Evidence from past economic recoveries indicates businesses tend to ease such requirements as the labor market tightens and hiring becomes more challenging

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