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One of Chattanooga's biggest employers is shifting most of its staff to at-home work this week and giving workers extra pay or benefits to help in the transition.

Unum Group, the world's biggest disability insurer, announced Monday it is encouraging most of its 2,800 employees who normally work at Unum's headquarters to do their work remotely at home instead. To aid in the transition, Unum is giving most of its hourly employees $250 to help with the transition to work from home and is providing more flexible work hours and emergency pay in some circumstances.

"Unum's purpose of helping the working world thrive throughout life's moments doesn't stop during a pandemic," Unum CEO Rick McKenney said in a memo to the company's 9,500 U.S. workers Monday. "It becomes even more critical."

In response to the growing coronavirus epidemic and concerns over its spread, Unum worked over the weekend to expand its remote network capacity to expand the share of its workforce doing their jobs from their own homes. Company spokeswoman Kelly Spencer said about 75% of the company's employees worked from home on Monday "and we expect that to increase over the next few days as people continue to transition to remote working."

(READ MORE: Chattanooga area employees shift to at-home work as coronavirus spreads)

In normal times, Unum has about 1,800 workers who do their jobs remotely from their own homes, Spencer said.

Unum said the shift to at-home work for most of its staff is expected to continue indefinitely, as events warrant. For now, Unum is keeping its campuses open and employees may continue to come to the office, although the company is encouraging employees to do their work at home.

Spencer said Unum will also give emergency pay for up to 10 days for workers where remote work options are not possible due to illnesses, quarantines or a lack of adequate internet connection or childcare because of the pandemic.

"We've had campus closures in the past (due to weather events) but this is unprecedented," Spencer said. "We're fairly well equipped to have people work from home, but we still had to do additional work to further expand those remote working capabilities."

Liz Ahmed, Unum's executive vice president of people and communications, said the company is offering greater flexibility in work rules in the current environment to help accommodate workers who may have school-age children also at home.

Chattanooga's biggest downtown employer, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, also shifted on Monday to having most of its 6,000-employee staff doing their jobs at home and not coming to the company's Cameron Hill headquarters. BlueCross expects to maintain the remote work approach for most of its staff until at least March 30.

"By distributing the majority of our workforce for this period, we're reducing our collective risk exposure within our facilities, our BlueCross families and our communities," BlueCross spokesman John Hawbaker said.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which has more than 2,000 employees at its Chattanooga Office Complex, is keeping most of its power headquarters staff downtown, at least for now. But TVA is closing its visitors centers and restricting access to its offices for the next 30 days.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

 

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