Coronavirus

From Layoffs to Bonuses: How Comcast, Penn, Wawa, Vanguard and More Are Dealing With Coronavirus

We checked back in with 10 of Philly's biggest employers to ask how they're coping with the COVID-19 pandemic now that the crisis has intensified.


What’s the coronavirus business impact? Here’s how 10 of Philly’s biggest employers are responding. Photos: Clockwise from top left: Entrance to the Comcast Technology Center, courtesy of Comcast; Penn’s Huntsman Hall, via Wikimedia Commons; Vanguard’s Innovation Studio, photo by Fabiola Cineas; Wawa at 16th and Chestnut streets, photo by Claire Sasko

Two weeks ago (it feels like yesterday), we reached out to some of the Philadelphia area’s biggest employers to hear how they were coping amid the coronavirus outbreak. At the time, people were just beginning to work from home — and most in-person university classes were on the verge of being canceled.

A lot has changed since then. This week, we circled back to those companies to check in on how they’re handling the pandemic now that it’s affecting virtually every sector of life.

Comcast

Comcast spokesperson Katie Lubenow says the company has asked all employees who are able to work from home to do so. Employees are conducting conference calls and using Microsoft Teams to communicate. As of Wednesday morning, there had been no layoffs at Comcast as a result of COVID-19, Lubenow said. In non-employee news, Comcast recently opened its Xfinity WiFi network to everyone and is offering customers unlimited data for 60 days, both free of charge. It has also pledged not to disconnect internet service or assess late fees if customers contact the company to say they can’t pay their bills during the pandemic.

On Monday, the International Olympic Committee and Japan announced that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, scheduled to start on June 24th, will be postponed amid the pandemic. This will have a significant financial impact on Comcast, as the company’s NBCUniversal owns the broadcast rights for the event.

SAP

The Newtown Square-based software firm says it has temporarily closed all North American office locations and is requiring that all employees work from home until further notice, with the exception of “essential operations such as our data centers” that will remain functioning “in accordance with public health orders.” (That specifically pertains to SAP’s involvement in the nation’s Critical Infrastructure Information Technology Sector.) All employees have also been advised to cease and cancel international business travel for now, spokesperson Justin Wolz says.

Wolz says no SAP employees have been laid off as of March 23rd: “SAP North America’s hourly contractors and vendors are a critical part of our organization, and it’s important SAP does its part to minimize any financial disruption to their lives in light of the uncertainty of this pandemic. SAP has every intent to ensure these individuals receive their full wages despite any reduced hours they may be working.”

Vanguard

Vanguard has ceased all business travel “for the foreseeable future” and is requiring any employee who has traveled to a Level 3 COVID-19 country to work from home for 14 days, spokesperson Amy Lash says. The company has also limited all large-group gatherings and instructed employees to cancel plans to attend non-client or non-business-essential events.

Most employees who have the ability to work from home have been asked to do so, Lash added. For those who continue to work in the Vanguard offices (because of “business-critical roles”), the company has implemented “precautionary measures within our facilities,” such as increasing the “frequency and magnitude of deep cleaning in our various locations,” shifting catering to a takeout operation, suspending all self-serve stations, and adding hand sanitizer dispensers to all of its locations, Lash added. The company has also expanded its paid sick leave policy for at least the next 30 days, encouraging all employees who feel sick to stay home.

Drexel University

Drexel closed all campus facilities to the public on March 20th. Since then, most of its staff has been working remotely, and non-critical on-campus research activities and clinical experiences have been suspended. The remainder of spring term is being taught online, and final exams will be conducted online. Spring break has been extended by one week. Online classes will resume on April 6th. In addition, all domestic and international university travel has been prohibited.

A spokesperson said the university has raised $125,000 to aid with students’ emergency expenses. As of Saturday, two Drexel students — one graduate and one undergrad — had tested positive for COVID-19. Both are in stable condition, according to the university.

Independence Blue Cross

IBC closed offices in the Philadelphia area and New Jersey on March 17th. Roughly 4,500 employees are working from home at this time, according to senior vice president and chief information officer Michael Vennera.

Executive vice president and chief human resources officer Jeanie Heffernan said the company is relying on Skype Business for meetings and phone calls and LinkedIn Learning online videos for associates, including courses on:

  • Phone-based customer service
  • Embracing unexpected change
  • Time management-working from home
  • Managing stress for positive change

Heffernan says there are currently no plans to make changes to IBC’s workforce as a result of the COVID-19 spread. The company is continuing to pay salaries or hourly wages for those who are unable to work while buildings are closed, such as the food services team, she added.

Wawa

Last week, Wawa shut down a Montgomery County location after discovering a suspected coronavirus case at the store. The company has suspended self-service coffee and fountain beverages and is now individually bagging bakery products. As of last Saturday, all 24-hour stores were closing between 2 and 3 a.m. to allow employees to sanitize and restock. The company temporarily shut down all non-essential business travel earlier this month.

Rivers Casino

Rivers Casino suspended operations ahead of Governor Tom Wolf‘s statewide shutdown order this past week. Spokesperson Jeff Shurilla says there are no known cases of COVID-19 associated with Rivers. Employees have been working online since the shutdown, and the casino has continued its normal payroll for all team members, Shurilla says.

Thomas Jefferson University

Thomas Jefferson University has postponed commencement ceremonies that were scheduled for May. The university says it’s planning to hold a “virtual celebration with students” and exploring options for in-person ceremonies “when it is safe again to bring large groups together.” Students in residence halls have been asked to move off campus, and the university says it has offered assistance to make their moves easier. Most campus facilities are closed, and meetings have been moved online. All Jefferson-related travel is suspended, and no visitors are permitted on campus. A spokesperson for the university says the school hasn’t laid off any employees.

CVS

CVS, which employs about 10,000 people in the Philadelphia region, announced on Monday that it is awarding bonuses to employees who are required to work at its facilities to assist patients and customers during the pandemic. These bonuses will range from $150 to $500, the company says, and will be provided to pharmacists as well as store associates, managers, site-based hourly employees and more.

CVS also plans to fill 50,000 full-time, part-time and temporary roles around the country, including store associates, home delivery drivers, distribution center employees, and customer service professionals, via virtual job fairs and interviews. Many of those positions will be filled by employees of CVS Health clients who have furloughed workers, including Hilton and Marriott, the company says. In addition, CVS Health will offer part- and full-time employees who have child- and elder- or adult-dependent-care needs the opportunity to take up to 25 fully covered days of backup care — the result of a partnership with the Bright Horizons in-home and center-based day-care provider network. This will begin in early April.

CVS has not announced any workforce reductions.

The University of Pennsylvania

All classes at the University of Pennsylvania have been moved online for the remainder of the spring semester. Commencement will be conducted online. On Friday, the university suspended all operations aside from those that are life-sustaining, in compliance with Governor Wolf’s order. University employees who are able to work remotely have been instructed to do so.

The university’s dining provider, Bon Appétit, announced that it will lay off approximately 140 employees without pay, effective March 31st. Full-time residential dining workers who are employed by the university will continue to receive salary and benefits, the university told the Daily Pennsylvanian.