JPMorgan asked many of its roughly 37,000 employees in the New York metro area this week to work from home in staggered shifts to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Bank tellers, who account for about half its New York workforce, weren’t included.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV sent 14,000 mostly white-collar workers from its U.S. headquarters to work from home Thursday. Factory workers were required to show up at their plants, including one in Kokomo, Indiana, where a worker had tested positive for the virus.

About 70% of America’s workers don’t have the luxury of working from home, including people like bank tellers, factory workers and those who labor in such industries as waste hauling, retail and health care. These 100 million people are likely to be the last ones at work even as the rest of their colleagues set up shop in home offices or at kitchen tables.

The split is raising thorny legal and fairness issues for corporations, from Inc. to Procter & Gamble Co., that understandably want to isolate workers while the highly communicable disease continues to spread. It’s “making very, very visible a lot of the kinds of inequalities that have long been in place,” said Erin Hatton, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo who studies race, gender, class and inequality.

“What this public-health crisis is doing is making those dynamics and those inequalities kind of part of the problem of this public health crisis,” Hatton said.

Amazon Plans
The issue is playing out across corporate suites, in many permutations. Companies are being forced to make hard choices about how quickly they should implement continuity plans, how to communicate them without causing panic and how to keep morale up for workers who can’t telecommute.

Amazon sent much of its office staff home, but left in place workers who operate warehouses, and the contractors who deliver packages vital to people stuck at home.

Procter & Gamble sent office staff home Thursday but also operates more than two dozen factories making vital products such as toilet paper and disinfectants. The Gap sent white=collar workers home in New York and San Francisco as thousands of retail locations remain open.

Even in Italy, where cases have surged, grocery stores, pharmacies and some banks are still open, meaning people have to come to work even as the global death toll tops 5,000, including 1,000 in Italy. The U.S. toll stands at 36.

Companies face a risk of claims from employees getting different treatment, but generally the law allows such disparities, said Derek Barella, a labor and employment lawyer at the Schiff Hardin LLP law firm in Chicago.

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