According to the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), BPO employees are considered as frontliners in the United States. As the coronavirus has shuttered swaths of America’s offices, many workers in corporate “call centres” are still expected to work on site, risking their own health.

These back office workforce have been deemed “essential” by many, such as the Department of Homeland Security, but employees with little paid sick leave still believe they feel forced to work (in constant fear of infection) in order to keep customer service lines functioning smoothly.

What is a BPO?

Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) businesses are firms that cater to offshore operations and responsibilities to a third – party service contractor. Their services can range from manufacturing products, providing back office workforce, or can be providing customer service support to companies.

A BPO company processes different tasks regardless of how big or small based on the need of its clients, meaning there are no limitations on what work can be outsourced to a BPO company.

From solving internet problems, to taking food orders, to answering insurance inquiries and government service – related questions, there will always be a contact centre agent ready to help you solve your problems in the midst of this pandemic.

Contrary to popular belief, BPO workers do not merely answer calls – they provide solutions systematically, creatively, and with increasing empathy. They endure bad, unreasonable behaviour. They endure insults, racial slurs, and condescending comments even from fellow employees from other sectors.

Indeed, COVID – 19 pandemic is the first of its kind and every measure taken by individuals or governments continue to be a work in progress. Working from home arrangements may not be as easy as it sounds. BPOs are known to work with highly confidential information and it is their duty to be the champions of data security. They are expected to have security policies and protocols that must be followed – coupled with the challenges in equipment and network infrastructure. So, yes without any atom of doubt, BPO employees are considered as frontliners.

Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers in the United States

As the continued spread of the novel coronavirus disrupts workflow management and demands miraculous operational shifts from industries around the globe, here are 14 employment categories that the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) identifies as Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers.

  1. Health care and public health workers

Hospital and laboratory personnel, caregivers, mental health workers, doctors, nurses, researchers, pharmacists, dentists, social workers, technicians, as well as funeral home and cemetery workers.

  1. Law enforcement, public safety, and first responders

Emergency management personnel, including police officers, fire – fighters, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians. The list also includes 911 call centre workers and those who oversee emergency service operations.

  1. Food and agriculture workers

Food and agriculture workers include those who work in grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants (including delivery drivers), company cafeterias, animal agriculture workers, and the food and beverage industries. Farmers, food processing workers, warehouse workers, and food truck delivery drivers are also on the list.

  1. Energy employees

This category includes utilities, telecommunications staffers, natural gas / propane workers, the electricity industry, engineers, cybersecurity / risk management staff, and environmental remediation.

  1. Water and wastewater

Employees needed to operate and maintain drinking water and wastewater/drainage infrastructure.

  1. Hazardous materials

Workers at nuclear facilities, workers managing medical waste, workers managing waste from pharmaceuticals and medical material production, and workers at laboratories processing test kits.

  1. Financial services

Bank employees and other financial/lending institutions, as well as those needed to keep ATM services available to consumers.

  1. Chemical workers

Workers supporting the chemical and industrial gas supply chains, including workers at chemical manufacturing plants, workers in laboratories, workers at distribution facilities, workers who transport basic raw chemical materials to the producers of industrial and consumer goods, including hand sanitizers, food and food additives, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and paper products.

  1. Defense industrial base

Workers who support the essential services required to meet national security commitments to the federal government and U.S. military. These individuals, include but are not limited to aerospace; mechanical and software engineers, manufacturing / production workers; IT support; security staff; security personnel; intelligence support, aircraft and weapon systems mechanics and maintainers.

Personnel working for companies, and their subcontractors, who perform under contract to the Department of Defense providing materials and services to the Department of Defense, as well as government – owned/contractor – operated and government – owned / government – operated facilities!

  1. Transportation and logistics

This includes mass transit workers, auto repair and maintenance workers, trash collectors, postal and shipping workers, air traffic controllers, air transportation employees, dispatchers, maintenance and repair technicians, warehouse workers, truck stop and rest area workers, and workers who maintain and inspect infrastructure.

  1. Public works

Public works employees, who operate, inspect and maintain dams, locks, levees, and bridges. This also includes workers who oversee sewer main breaks, traffic signals and buried/underground utilities.

  1. Communications and information technology

Technicians, operators, call centres, wireline and wireless providers, cable service providers, satellite operations, and manufacturers and distributors of communications equipment. Workers who support radio, television, and media service, including news reporters, studio, and technicians for news gathering and reporting, are also included in this category, as well as data centre operators, HVAC and electrical engineers, security personnel, IT managers, software and hardware engineers, and database administrators.

  1. Other community – based government operations and essential functions

Elections personnel, building employees, security staff, trade officials, weather forecasters, customs workers, and educators!

  1. Critical manufacturing

Workers necessary for the manufacturing of materials and products needed for medical supply chains, transportation, energy, communications, food and agriculture, chemical manufacturing, nuclear facilities, the operation of dams, water and wastewater treatment, emergency services, and the defense industrial base.

Conclusion

Looming essential worker benefits (such as health insurance) over front-line employees’ heads or even additional compensation does not favour BPO employees for putting their health at risk. The truth remains that nothing can quantify putting health at risk because employee health should not be a negotiable compensation.

While many businesses are investing millions in their employees during the pandemic, offering new work – at – home (WAH) and PTO policies (such as Walmart, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Kroger to name a few), BPO companies should also do same to protect and cater for their workforce.

And if some BPO sites continue to be staffed by agents on different shifts, their welfare and safety should be the utmost priority. Free and proper food and accommodations should be available on – site. Testing and medical services incurred due to COVID – 19 should be covered by health care insurance. Shuttle services should be provided and salaries, benefits, and other incentives should be released early and fast for all employees.

Ajaero Tony Martins