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[COMMENTARY] Employees at the Pump: Gas Prices Hinder Workers

[COMMENTARY] Employees at the Pump: Gas Prices Hinder Workers

As gas prices fluctuate across the country due to the Russian attacks on Ukraine with an average cost of more than $4 a gallon nationally, and as high as $5.85 in some states, it is urgent that employers be sympathetic to their employees who commute.

TUSTIN, CA – MARCH 08: (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Policymakers are stepping in to help. 

Congress is tackling the issue, by holding virtual meetings this week with executives from oil and gas companies to address to address the rising cost of gasoline.

 President Joe Biden recently announced a plan to release one million barrels of oil per day from reserves to ease this pain. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a $2.5 million “Chicago Moves” plan to issue $12.5 million in $150 pre-paid gas cards and $7.5 million in $50 pre-paid public transportation cards to eligible Chicagoans this spring and summer.

But business leaders and employers need to do more on a local and national level.  

The price of gas just went up $0.50 in my Chicago neighborhood, but I am fortunate to be able to work from home or take the train to my office. But not all are this lucky. 

I serve as the treasurer for the Coalition for Disability Access in Health Science Education and for the first time in two years after COVID cancellations, the group is returning to an in-person conference in July. The budget created in the past is not reflective of today’s costs for travel and food. This is deeply concerning for a small Coalition aiming to generate revenue at this event. 

During the past two years and more of the pandemic, conferences and symposiums across the country were canceled or moved to virtual, as companies shifted to remote working to protect their employees from COVID. 

Global Workplace Analytics reports that although 4.7 million individuals are working remotely,  44% of employers do not allow remote work.

As high gas prices are affecting small business owners and entrepreneurs, human resource departments and managers requiring in-person attendance for their employees can work with their staff to determine what options are available to support their employees. 

This is as gas prices are high, but food costs are also soaring. While some workers can dip into their savings, many cannot. Research from Bankrate shows more individuals are racking up more credit card debt now to cover the increasing costs of living. Many Americans do not have a savings account to go to for emergency costs that arise. 

Employers who offer remote work options that may be the leaders in this crisis. A classic 2011 study in West Sound Work outlined how to assist employees with the rising gas prices. The options are viable 11 years later when “telecommuting” was the second option.

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Providing gas gift cards to employees and even considering raising the mileage reimbursement rates are all solid options for employers to consider in assisting their employees. While there are jobs that cannot be done remotely, such as our front-line workers in health care settings, teachers, and restaurant workers, gas cards or transit cards may be options. 

In order to value employees and not lose them, it is important to acknowledge working from home is still working hard. In a recent report from the Achievers Workforce Institute, Shows “17%  of employees feel supported at work on their physical wellbeing, while 38% of human resource leaders say they believe their company provides enough employee support. Only 18% of employees report they feel their mental health is supported at work. That means more than 80% of employees do not feel supported at work for their mental or physical well-being. 

The report continues, that “feeling accepted, included and valued at work; being warmly welcomed and made to feel part of the team, and having a supportive manager are the top three drivers of workplace well-being.” 

As gas prices complicate the daily lives of employees, this is a time for empathy. Yes, the ability to work remotely is easier than ever for some, but no one should be facing the dilemma of whether or not to feed their family or pay for gas. 

About the Author:

Marie Lusk is Director for the Office of Student Accessibility Services at Rush University, Vice President of the board for A New Direction and Treasurer for Coalition for Disability Access in Health Science Education and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. 

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