Ongoing Response and Support
ONEOK's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been quick and measured. Actions were taken early on to manage potential impacts of COVID-19 on our employees, customers, contractors, the communities where we operate and our business. We continue to prioritize health and safety while remaining focused on providing essential energy services for our customers and communities.
As an essential critical infrastructure business, it has been vital for our employees to continue daily work. In March 2020, all employees who were able were asked to work from home, and all nonessential company travel was immediately postponed. ONEOK increased companywide safety protocols and offered additional benefits and human resources support to employees, while continuing to prioritize open communication related to our COVID-19 response efforts.
Employee and contractor support.
Critical employees and contractors who continue to work on-site due to job requirements continue to follow COVID-19 safety protocols designed to comply with guidance from local and national health and governmental authorities. In July 2020, care packages were shipped to all employees' homes, including thermometers, hand sanitizer and face coverings, to encourage health and safety precautions at work and at home.
Temporary benefit plan changes were enacted, such as waiving charges for virtual visits and COVID-19 diagnostic tests, and ONEOK's Employee Assistance Program continues to be widely communicated and made available for employees and their families who are facing personal or job-related hardships. Additionally, ONEOK opted into the CARES Act 401(k) loan deferrals and penalty-free hardship distributions for employees.
Facility safety and building enhancements.
A number of job functions required employees to work on-site during the pandemic. These positions are critical to the continued safe and reliable operation of our assets and business. Enhanced safety protocols and building modifications were put in place in 2020 to help keep these employees safe while on the job.
Face covering protocols, building modifications and other processes were implemented throughout the pandemic specific to locational needs. Examples include the use of disinfectant fogging units in control rooms, meeting rooms, common areas and corporate transportation; the addition of thermometer stations for employee use and UV sanitizing lights on HVAC units to improve air quality; increased facility cleaning and easily accessible sanitizer stations.
Pipeline and plant control employees, responsible for 24-hour monitoring of ONEOK's pipeline systems and assets, were separated from other employees working on-site. ONEOK's main pipeline control center was segmented into individual control rooms as an added safety precaution for these vital functions.
Leadership communication and planning.
Throughout the pandemic ONEOK's leadership has prioritized open communication and information sharing with employees and external stakeholders through regular CEO employee communications, frequent board updates and virtual meetings with investors. Early on, ONEOK implemented detailed protocols regarding employee travel and reporting potential symptoms or exposure, and we have continued to prioritize contact tracing and ongoing case management internally.
A Return to Office team was created in April 2020, composed of key company leaders from across the organization, tasked with creating a plan for a safe, measured and practical transition back to the office for those employees working from home. ONEOK continues to follow guidance from local and national health and governmental authorities to help guide return to office-related decisions and companywide safety protocols.
In 2020, we honored all commitments to charitable organizations made prior to the pandemic. We also contributed approximately $600,000 to COVID-19 relief efforts and made in-kind donations of personal protective equipment and other items to organizations with front-line workers. ONEOK employees generously served our communities by sewing or 3D-printing masks, mask straps and face shields; donating food, clothing and toys to community organizations; preparing STEM kits for local children; and delivering meals to homebound citizens.