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The Public’s Views on Corporate America’s Response to COVID-19

With each passing week of the coronavirus crisis, corporate America faces new, strange challenges that are testing the nation’s business leaders – as well as workers, customers, and communities across the country. What constitutes the right – and just – course of action is near impossible to define, and companies must consider next steps that could impact their stakeholders for months, if not years, to come. 

In addition to the initiatives we’ve begun – tracking how companies are responding, identifying key principles for action, and highlighting real-time examples of companies taking the lead – we’re launching a critical new effort that is central to understanding what is needed from corporate America at this time: We’re asking members of the American public what matters most to them.

Joining forces with our new strategic survey research partner, The Harris Poll, to conduct an omnibus survey, we are going out to members of the American public on a regular basis to identify their views of just business during the coronavirus crisis, as well as their priorities for corporate action.

Here are four key insights from our first week of conducting this survey effort:

1. The public appears to be divided on how they believe corporations are responding to the crisis.

  • At this early point in the COVID-19 crisis, half (50%) of survey respondents believe that large companies are demonstrating leadership in their actions, while the other half (50%) believe large companies need to do more to step up to prioritize the health, safety, and security of their workforce. 
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that a majority (58%) of younger people aged 18-34 believe companies need to step up their response, a full 10 percentage points higher than those 35 and older – suggesting that younger generations hold large companies to a higher standard of responsible behavior, even in a time of crisis. 
  • This is an opportunity for companies to demonstrate to the public that there is a meaningful role for the private sector in helping society through this public health crisis.

2. Americans want companies to minimize exposure among their employees.

  • We asked respondents to identify what they believe are the three most important steps – out of seven options presented – companies should take to protect the health and safety of their workforce. Most important were that companies:
    • Provide the flexibility to work from home (62%);
    • Provide or extending paid sick leave for at least 14 days (60%); and
    • Update and enforce greater safety and sanitation policies and processes across their operations (50%).
  • For a full breakdown of responses, and options presented, see our methodology here.

3. Americans want companies to maintain healthcare coverage, over financial compensation, in the event of job loss, furloughs, or layoffs.

  • We asked survey participants to identify what they believe are the three most important steps – out of 11 options presented – companies should take to protect the economic security of their workforce. Most important were that companies:
    • Continue access to healthcare benefits, either during furlough or for an amount of time after being laid off (49%);
    • Continue to pay hourly/contract workers during temporary business closures (38%); and
    • Establish emergency funds for workers who have reduced hours (33%).
  • For a full breakdown of responses, and options presented, see our methodology here.

4. Whether or not a company is disproportionately affected by coronavirus, Americans have the same set of expectations for how they should respond.

  • We split survey respondents into two groups and asked them:
    • How they think companies experiencing the most financial distress (like hotels and airlines) should support the healthy, safety, and economic security of their workforces.
    • How they think companies across the board should support the healthy, safety, and economic security of their workforces.
  • Interestingly, there is no significant difference in how people believe companies should respond – regardless of whether they are in financial distress. Both groups of respondents want to see companies prioritize:
    • Working from home, extending sick leave, and workplace sanitation to protect the health and safety of the workforce; and
    • Extending health benefits, extending pay despite closures, and emergency funds to promote employees’ economic security.
  • For a full breakdown of responses, and options presented, see our methodology here

We will be continuing to build upon this survey effort in the coming weeks, reaching out to members of the American public with new questions, and tracking their shifting views on some of the above. We hope this initiative, along with our ongoing efforts to track corporate action in this time, will serve to bring greater clarity and guidance to companies looking to do right by their stakeholders in this time of great uncertainty. 

To download the topline survey results and methodology, click here, and stay tuned for our ongoing updates. 

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of JUST Capital from March 23-24, 2020 among 1,043 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Have questions about our research and rankings?  We want to hear from you!