Almost 40 years ago, Levi Strauss & Co. stock boy-turned-executive Jerry O’Shea drove the effort to create the Red Tab Foundation (RTF) in order to ensure that no LS&Co. employee or retiree would go without a financial safety net in times of need.
Supported by employees, company leaders and even the descendants of Levi Strauss himself, RTF has disbursed more than $25 million in hardship grants since its inception and has been widely recognized as a standard bearer for employee hardship funds.
As the coronavirus pandemic impacts communities and businesses around the globe, the foundation’s work has never been more critical. In addition to the work being done to support our own employees, RTF has also begun advising other companies seeking to set up their own hardship funds. In response, the foundation team has created an Employee Hardship Fund Playbook, open sourcing its learnings for others to utilize. “This is a way RTF can have an outsize impact in the corporate world, not just by providing assistance to our employees, but also through helping other companies provide assistance to theirs,” said RTF Executive Director Jenny Calvert Rodriguez.
Many companies are stepping up efforts to take care of employees however they can during this time of crisis. They are seeing what the foundation has long known – that hardship funds are a great mechanism to provide immediate relief to current or former employees who experience a disaster-related or personal financial hardship.
We’ve learned a lot over the past four decades. Key among our learnings is the simple fact that the types of hardships affecting employees right now in the face of this pandemic happen at a smaller scale all of the time. The Federal Reserve has reported that 40 percent of American families do not have sufficient savings to deal with a $400 emergency expense without borrowing or selling something. And that was before the mass job losses and crushing economic consequences that have come along with the pandemic. Emergency hardship grants can help ensure that employees and their families have the resources to weather unexpected events like the COVID-19 crisis, and its associated business and economic impacts.
The playbook provides both broad guidelines – like the need to put empathy first, be needs driven, responsive and understand your client population – and more granular guidance around subjects like organizational structure, how to field requests, and how to set up channels to reach potential applicants and disburse grants. One such passage offers insights on how best to tailor approaches to employee demographics:
If your core employee demographic is Gen Z hourly retail employees, you’ll need to design your intake process to be mobile first. For an older employee or retiree base, a call center may be the first point of contact.
There are also real-life examples of how RTF has followed its own advice and flexed when needed:
Unexpected expenses or loss of income due to childcare needs were not a covered category for RTF – until schools across the globe started to shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, we changed our guidelines.
The playbook is now available online to anyone who asks for it.
“We’re hoping that our experience can benefit other companies, and by extension, their employees, especially as we all continue to navigate this current situation,” Jenny said. “I can think of no better way to honor the original inspiration behind the Red Tab Foundation and to show our commitment to employees, particularly when it’s needed most.”
Join Jenny and RTF Global Philanthropy Lead John Booker for a webinar on Tuesday, April 21 to discuss the playbook’s contents, alongside hardship fund leaders from The Home Depot, HCA Healthcare and an expert from the Aspen Institute. Register now to join in the conversation.