An empty parking lot at Whirlpool’s Global Headquarters is pictured as almost all employees are now working from home due to COVID-19. The appliance maker is now offering an enhanced retirement plan for eligible employees.

BENTON HARBOR — Whirlpool Corp. is offering salaried employees an enhanced plan for voluntary retirements as a proactive measure against rising costs during the coronavirus pandemic.

As COVID-19 continues to hit the U.S., the Benton Harbor appliance maker announced its revamped retirement plan Wednesday.

“It has become clear that beyond the impact on human life, the economic consequences of the pandemic are devastating,” Whirlpool’s statement read. “In responding to this challenge, Whirlpool Corp. has committed to reducing our cost position across the entire value chain globally. As such, we announced the offering of a voluntary retirement program for eligible U.S.-based salaried employees.”

The enhanced plan is considered temporary, as eligible employees have until early June to make a decision.

No details were released concerning the key additions to the enhanced plan, or how long Whirlpool has considered the offer. A company spokesperson said they are not publicly disclosing details of the plan or internal planning related to COVID-19.

“These actions, while difficult, are necessary to help our company weather this storm, enable us to serve our customers and communities, and position us to win as the economy recovers,” the company’s statement read.

This isn’t the first unique action Whirlpool has taken since COVID-19 made its way to Southwest Michigan.

In March, the company announced it would require salaried employees to take two weeks of unpaid leave. Employees were asked to schedule a two-week furlough between April 13 and the end of May.

With 77,000 employees around the world – about 4,000 who are based in Southwest Michigan – Whirlpool added more workplace policies as the coronavirus continued to spread across the United States.

Starting in January, the company initiated travel bans, remote work policies, line distancing and enhanced cleaning of its facilities.

Whirlpool joined several other companies in withdrawing its 2020 earnings guidance, citing “unprecedented uncertainty” and concerns over disruptions related to coronavirus.

The company saw its first-quarter earnings fall, compared to last year’s first three months of the fiscal year.

The appliance maker produced $152 million, or $2.41 per share, in net earnings for its first quarter. Earnings were down compared to the $471 million, or $7.31 per share, recorded for the first quarter of 2019.

The company’s revenue for the quarter also fell by 9 percent, to $4.33 billion from $4.76 billion last year.

During a call with shareholders in early May, Whirlpool CEO and Chairman Marc Bitzer said they are now projecting more than $500 million in net cost – a large increase from the $200 million listed in the company’s previous guidance.

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski