I know a person who currently works for a business that is on the borderline of what are considered "essential" by New York State during the current mandates of decreased in-person workforce. While the company does serve essential functions, he does not actually perform essential duties that cannot be performed from home.

Two of their employees have just called in sick with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. As far as I know neither have been tested yet. However my friend is still expected to go into work despite the fact that he and his coworkers have all been in close proximity with these individuals. My friend and his coworkers also interact with customers and have concerns about endangering them.

My friend's boss has played this all off as perfectly within the NY mandates as they are classified as "essential", and so none of the practices apply to them and they only need to have people stay home if their coworkers test positive. They have pushed back hard against the idea of allowing anyone to work from home, even though an overwhelming majority of the work can be done remotely with ease.

Is there a way for my friend to get out of a situation where he is potentially exposing himself and others, without causing a lot of fallout for himself? He doesn't feel very secure in his job as he was hired in late December.

  • 7
    The same answer to all those other questions. If you are feeling unsafe, don't go to work. If that means burning PTO, or taking unpaid time off, or needing a new job, if you are unsafe, those are secondary problems.
    – Aida Paul
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 22:44
  • Essential doesn't mean you don't need to stay 6" away for example.
    – Andy
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 23:54
  • 1
    Don't forget to be patient. Most everybody is freaked out by this situation, including supervisors and executives.
    – O. Jones
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 12:30

1 Answer 1


Staying healthy should be the top priority, with all else secondary IMHO.

However, there is one thing I'd recommend trying.

Short of refusing to work in the office and therefore presumably standing a good chance of being let go, if I were in that situation I'd be putting my concerns in writing and waiting for my boss' response:

Hi Ed, as you're aware Adam and Bill are both on sick leave with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, and I've had prolonged contact with them over the last few days. Given I have regular contact with customers and coworkers, I'm concerned about the potential impact on their health if I have caught COVID-19.

Given the above, I think it prudent if I work from home for the next few weeks. If you still require me to come into work despite the risks outlined above, please clarify this in writing.

Don't expect miracles - the most likely outcome is he says, in writing, you still need to come into work. In that case, you haven't lost anything.

However, there's a chance that he takes a more lenient view if he's essentially forced to agree with "I want you to come into work despite the risk you may infect customers and coworkers" in writing. Many people may be happy to say that when there's no specific record of it, but will be much more hesitant to agree to something like that on paper, where it could severely come back to bite them later.

  • 5
    "get it in writing" is cliche, but it's very often appropriate, and in this case too. That turns it from "flaunting the best practices for convenience' sake" to "something that could be pulled up at my termination hearing" for OP's boss.
    – Magisch
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 12:48

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