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My partner is in a difficult situation with their job and we are not sure how to handle it. We live in a state that has ordered all non-essential services to shut down. The CEO of my partner's company is insisting that they are an essential service, that business will continue as usual, and is actively resisting taking any steps to mitigate the COVID-19 risks.

The specific work this company does is not at all essential, but is in an industry with some essential businesses, which I think technically makes their continued operation legal. Much of the work could be done remotely, but the company is not even trying to transition to that. Anyone who wishes to take time off must use their regular PTO. The employees have been pointedly reminded that any time off they take beyond their normally allowed PTO will result in being disciplined and/or fired.

There are some other specific actions the company has taken that seem very wrong to me, but I'm not sure if they are technically illegal and do not know if we have any recourse. A few examples:

  1. An employee showed up noticebly ill and mentioned their entire family was sick. This employee was allowed to work in the office for hours before being sent home.
  2. Employees who worked with the sick employee were told to not tell anyone else someone had been in office sick. The executive management wants as few people as possible to know about the exposure, lest the employees get more concerned about the virus.
  3. An employee sent out a company wide email that a major client was shutting down all of their offices. This kind of announcement affects a lot of people's work and notifying everyone of a development such as this would normally be standard procedure. In this case however, the employee was reprimanded by an executive and told to suppress similar information going forward.
  4. Cleaning and sanitation supplies in the office are minimal, and the little they have is dwindling. My partner is bringing their own supplies from home.

We both think that the company is behaving unethically and irresponsibly, but our research hasn't turned up anything showing the companies actions as illegal. Given that, I'm not sure what leverage we might have to change the situation. My partner does not want to lose their job at the start of a recession, but is getting pretty fed up with this company. Any advice would be much appreciated.

Edit in response to Tymoteusz Paul's comment asking what specifically we're looking to achieve. I'd be happy with help achieving any of the following:

  1. IANAL. Any pointers to legal resources we might not have found would be appreciated.
  2. Convincing management to move some or all of the employees to remote would be an improvement.
  3. Management allowing employees to take extended paid or unpaid time off would also be helpful.
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  • What do you want as end result? Work from home? Unpaid/Paid time off for the duration of the covid-19? Mar 19 '20 at 17:13
  • I haven't found anything specifying their actions as illegal, but I'm definitely not a lawyer and would not be surprised if I've missed something. Places to look further into this would be appreciated. Mar 19 '20 at 17:35
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    I don't think your first point is answerable here but Law Stack Exchange has a general list of online legal references on their meta. They don't allow questions asking advice on a specific legal matter though.
    – BSMP
    Mar 19 '20 at 18:22
  • Is your partner a member of a union?
    – nick012000
    Mar 20 '20 at 0:27
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    Ask A Manager just posted a list of where to report employers violating shelter in place orders: askamanager.org/2020/03/…
    – BSMP
    Mar 29 '20 at 0:49
15

Take PTO, then unpaid PTO, if necessary, until the company comes to its senses. This won't take long at all, especially if a critical mass of employees do so, it effectively shuts the firm down regardless of the firm's position.

If you're a little more couragous, and have the resources to afford the blow back, just tell your direct supervisor, "I'll be working from home until further notice." That might be the whole conversation, they might not push back. But if they do, then call them on it like so:

Boss: "No, you can't work from home." You: "That's a big problem for me. I won't be here at the office tomorrow. I'll be available to work from home though." Boss: "then you'll be subject to disciplinary action / fired / some other hollow threat" You: "You do what you have to do. I'll check in tomorrow remotely"

You have more leverage than you think.

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  • This would work better if all your colleges know about it. It's very noticeable that the number of people WFH here has increased daily, as it becomes normalised. Mar 20 '20 at 11:18
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    This is assuming they are actually set up to be able to work remotely. "Could be done remotely" doesn't mean they are actually set up to do so
    – Kevin
    Mar 20 '20 at 14:03
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When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout! It sounds like the most fearful person in this situation is the CEO. I fear they're behaving irrationally toward workers. The company's reputation is seriously at risk here. To fire somebody who got sick during a pandemic would make a very compelling story in the media, and that story would trash the company.

Asking workers to keep secrets from other workers about health and safety is bad behavior. It's dangerous enough to compel a decision to find another job whenever possible, and maybe to report the company to OSHA or the office of your state's Director of Public Health. Still, if your partner does that the CEO is going to get even more irrational.

And, I think the "essential service" category is determined by emergency management authorities, strictly speaking, not company managers.

But none of that helps your partner very much. Trying to stand on legal rights will take a long time and probably cause heartache (and unemployment) during that time. Leaving the job will, duh, cause unemployment.

What your partner is doing sounds good: bring in some cleaning supplies, and work with fellow employees to stay safe.

She might politely ask the CEO to reimburse her for the supplies. That's a way to, as the business slogan goes, "be part of the solution, not just part of the problem." And it reminds the CEO that people care about health. Failing that, maybe colleagues should pass the hat for the supplies.

She should definitely start looking for a new job. Reason for leaving? Poor leadership.

If the CEO is still running in circles a few weeks from now, then maybe stop being patient.

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    Alternatively can just burn the PTO. If you are that seriously concerned about getting ill, why even think twice about it? I think that's the only thing missing from this answer, and it's probably the safest solution. Mar 19 '20 at 23:08
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Get organised - this is the sort of reason unions were invented.

If you alone refuse to come in, the boss might feel he has to fire you in order to maintain his authority. However everyone does it, he can't fire everyone without destroying the company.

That's the nuclear option though, you can start much softer. Everyone in a team can make their views clear to their team leader, that the boss is acting immorally and against the interests of the company, and that you want your team leader to talk to the other team leaders and then (assuming they all agree) say the same thing to the boss.

Point out that:

  • he's had plenty of warning
  • if the hospitals reach breaking-point and people die, the press will start looking for scapegoats.
  • if sick people come into work, he could have everyone off sick at the same time.
  • there are (most likely) people in the company with health issues, or relatives with health issues, who are especially at risk, and he could be at risk of being sued for putting people in danger.
  • sacrificing other people for profit is pretty much the definition of evil in most movies.

Hopefully the boss will listen to them, especially if it's a united message. Also, you've not singled yourself out as a troublemaker.

If the boss doesn't listen, hopefully most of the company is talking about the issue, and it'll be easier to organise a large group of people staying at home. Even if it's not the whole company, it would be hard to cope without a whole team.

-1

Tip off the local Press, senators and congressmen anonymously. The press and politicians love a scapegoat or bad behaviour to make a point.

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  • 8
    without an explanation, this answer may become useless in case if someone else posts an opposite opinion. For example, if someone posts a claim like "Don't tip off the local Press, senators and congressmen anonymously", how would this answer help reader to pick of two opposing opinions? Consider editing it into a better shape, to meet How to Answer guidelines
    – gnat
    Mar 19 '20 at 17:29
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    @gnat you really don't see that would play out - the press and politicians love a scapegoat or bad behaviour to make appoint - no offence that's a very naive point of view you have Mar 19 '20 at 20:04
  • This is a goos answer, not sure why downvoted.
    – guest
    Mar 19 '20 at 21:20
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    @Neuromancer no offense but you've completely missed the point
    – Alex M
    Mar 19 '20 at 22:39
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    @Neuromancer - Gnat's not saying your answer is wrong. He's saying that, without any sort of reasoning or argument behind it, there's nothing the reader can use to judge whether you're right or not. It'd be like me saying "Shrubs are superior to Flowerbeds" and not providing any reasons or such. Sure, I might be right... but how on earth would you know? Maybe my reasons for saying that are awesome and well-thought out... or maybe I'm just saying that because reading Flowers for Algernon traumatized me and I now hate flowers.
    – Kevin
    Mar 24 '20 at 14:36

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