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Someone from my workplace in Houston has actually tested positive for COVID-19. The branch manager has declared everyone to work from home for at least one month. Unfortunately, my boss (let's just call him Joe for now) has forced us to work together physically for at least a week in order to finish the programming aspect of a game the company is making. He already rejected my request to work at someone's house.

The higher-ups have made it clear that if the game is finished (we did 85% already over the past year) within one week, Joe himself will get at least a $50,000 raise in his salary because that would show his "ability to concoct efficiency and cohesiveness within a group".

Now I wouldn't mind working harder to help Joe, but after the coronavirus case in the building, I cannot fathom working anything but work from home. However, Joe has threatened to tell the branch manager that me and my three other colleagues that he caught us doing "very naughty things while he was away". He claims it is way more productive and speedy to work when we are physically together.

I know the branch manager wouldn't fire my group because of our achievements in the programming field, but he would still do something very serious to us. We made our first game last year, and it was an out-of-the-blue hit in the United States.

The branch manager will not tolerate any misbehavior when making the sequel of it. There is a high chance he will heavily dock my pay due to Joe's lies. I really do not want to work in any public places (to preserve my health), even if it wasn't in our company building.

Honestly, this situation seems so surreal, and I thought its kind is only in movies or TV shows. My three colleagues and I are stressed out about this since we are all 26 and under and don't have too much experience in a workplace.

Joe said we must prepare to come in two days. I have considered telling a higher up, but I don't want to risk my group's salary in any way. I would greatly appreciate any kind of advice received.

  • This is a guest account for Lewis ALcindor since I didn't register by mistake. Thank you all for the feedback and I will take these responses into heavy consideration. Unfortunately, I cannot edit and divide the info into paragraphs because of being unregistered; please bear with me I know it's an eyesore. Thank you! – Lewis Alcindour Mar 17 at 0:14
  • Is your area government doing any sort of curfew, lockdown, no-travel, no-interaction, stay-at-home, anything like that? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Mar 17 at 7:43
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    What are the "very naughty things while he was away" things? – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Mar 17 at 11:48
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    @reg Well, question is if they have leverage. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Mar 17 at 13:34
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    Not really relevant to the question, but if it took a year of consistent work to get 85% done, that final 15% represents more than 7 weeks worth of effort. Unless your team has been really slacking and has hidden reserves of efficiency to draw upon, Joe isn't getting that bonus no matter where you work. (Worse than that, unless the project has been remarkably well designed & managed to this point, from my years of experience, I'd assume a project that claims to be 85% complete is probably closer to 60%) – Mr.Mindor Mar 17 at 20:12
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I don't think you need to choose your health or your job, at least not in this instance.

Try to get any threats in writing. Try to get any instructions to work in the office, in writing.

Joe is not really doing much to suggest to me you should be risking your own health to earn him an extra $50k. The fact that he is willing to risk your health, and the health of everyone you know for money probably tells you all you need to know.

Your best bet is to email the branch manager and ask for clarification. Do not mention the $50k, or anything like that. Just say you are getting conflicting directions and would like to understand which you should follow. Also, it may be worth indicating your concerns around working in the office.

If the branch manager tells you to work from home

That's what you and your colleagues do. If your boss makes up stuff, then you defend yourself.

If the branch manager tells you to work at work

Then you need to make a decision about your health vs. job.

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Go straight to Joe's boss and tell him what Joe said to you.

Talk to your team first, since anything you do will be more effective if you act together. Try to agree on what your response should be. My advice is to go to Joe's boss, and go together as a group.

Threatening someone with lies is the sort of thing that gets people fired, and good riddance. Getting him to make the threats in writing is an idea, but assuming he's not stupid he won't. If he made these threats to more than one of you (separately or together) then it won't be needed - four of you giving the same story is going to be more then enough to get him punished and his decisions overridden. After that he will have nothing over you, and you can go work from home and deliver an awesome game.

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    Going to Joe’s boss makes at least sure that any future lies by him will be recognised as lies. – gnasher729 Mar 17 at 8:09
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    Also totally in the interest of the company: Joe currently does his best to prove he doesn't deserve a 50k increase for "ability to concoct efficiency and cohesiveness within a group", all he does is provide a toxic workplace. That might work in the short term to get some result, certainly not the best and certainly won't work longterm. – Frank Hopkins Mar 17 at 10:43
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    Better yet, you and your team-mates go as a group to Joe's boss. By staying at work you are not only endangering your own health, but the LIVES of other, possibly immuno-compromised persons who could come into contact with you as an asymptomatic carrier. – MickeyfAgain_BeforeExitOfSO Mar 17 at 13:00
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Simple: The moment Joe threatens to tell nasty lies about me, I’m out. After informing the branch manager and whoever is above him of everything that happened. Joe can say goodbye to his $50,000.

Will you be fired? The company still wants that game finished. There are only two people who can finish it, and Joe isn’t one of them. Joe is a liability.

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    Joe can say goodbye to his job, Texas is an "at-will" (i.e. firing for no stated reason) state and management will not risk being accomplices if it goes down. – user3819867 Mar 17 at 9:10
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First, we can not tell you definitely what to do. This strikes me as a no-win situation -- you can either protect your health or your job, but not both.

Consider that you are not just risking your health, but the health of your friends and family, your co-workers, and their friends and families. I don't have a good ethical argument at this time for going to work, especially a facility that has been directly exposed.

Consider looking for a new job immediately. If the higher-ups back up Joe, then this definitely is not a place you want to work. Agreed this is not the optimal time to job hunt, but the earlier you start, the sooner you will see results.

Perhaps you should consult with your colleagues. If everyone is willing to risk salary to avoid sickness, then it will be an easier decision to make. My assumption is that the higher-ups would want to distance themselves from this nonsense, but it's a crazy world out there.

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    You can very well protect both by exposing Joe. But then Joe is a blackmailer, and in my book blackmail deserves ultimate punishment. – gnasher729 Mar 17 at 8:10
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    @gnasher729 agreed, I'd speak to the others immediately about going to Joe's boss. If they let him get away with this tactic, he'll just use it again and again. Even in normal circumstances this is something OP should consider calling out, but when it's OP's literal health on the line, I wouldn't even hesitate. Best case for OP is they don't catch the virus, but they have to work with the stress of knowing it's possible, meanwhile the person who literally blackmailed them gets a 50k payout? No. Just no. – delinear Mar 17 at 12:32
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What a terrible situation you are in. I feel sorry for you.

In terms of what to do directly right now, it would be to report Joe as what he's doing on the face I would think the management, at the company you are in right now, will not approve. If I was his manager I'd be super duper angry at him, because he's essentially trying to steal $50k from the company by putting my employees' lives at risk.

That's pretty much all you can do. Report him and make sure your fellow game developers also report him in the same manner.

Good luck!

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Go to a doctor, pretend to be sick and get a sick leave. So you don't have to go in. You can now offer to do some work from home beside being sick.

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    Lying about any situation is never a good idea. Plus it always has a chance of back firing on you. – Peter M Mar 17 at 12:41
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    I don't think you'll get a sick leave if the doctor inspects you and find nothing since you're pretending. – reg Mar 17 at 13:25
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    @PeterM: Never say never! – guest Mar 17 at 20:28
  • @reg How can the doctor tell weather you have a headache or not? He simply can't. These days in Germany you can get a sick leave via a telephone call to the doctor. He wants to protect his health and his salary, I certainly would do this. Better than getting corona at work or caught up in discussions. – plattenkondensator Mar 18 at 18:51

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