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About a week ago, our company president issued a policy requiring employees to comply with the social distancing requirements issued by the state. To that end, the company procured some masks, which were to be kept by each employee and used whenever employees needed to have meetings with each other to minimize the risk of infection. All meetings with clients at the office are prohibited, so client preferences are irrelevant.

The problem is NOBODY is following this policy. We are small office of maybe 40 some people. When I say nobody, I mean that myself and one other employee are following these rules.

I wouldn't necessarily have a problem with this as I've an office and can close the door; or I can work from home. However, there's recently been a very major project opportunity that I've been tapped to lead and I really want to lead it as it's going to be both very interesting as well as allow me to advance my professional standing in a very substantial way.

However, in order to do this project well, I need to attend a lot of in-person meetings to discuss specific elements. Attending these meetings are the company president, my manager, the overall project manager, and senior project managers; none of them are wearing masks.

In the past two weeks, we've had at least 4 in-person meetings. I learned that I also missed another one because I had been working from home and thus missed out on some important information until I was updated later.

If it is relevant, the medical guidance on this is that wearing a mask protects others from yourself. Thus, doing so is an act of protection towards others. Furthermore, I have asthma and am in an at-risk category from COVID-19. Several of these senior employees also have family members who are in the at-risk category.

To address some concerns:

I don't think this is a duplicate of this question. I do have the option to work from home, however, the nature of this opportunity does necessitate in-person meetings. I could simply insist on working from home on this, but I will miss meetings since a lot of them are impromptu.

Some ideas I have considered thus far are (and potential drawbacks):

  • At the next meeting, stop the meeting from starting and insist that everyone wears a mask before we begin.

Pros: Doesn't single any one person out. Cons: Might have to deal with a bunch of group pushback because I'm calling everyone out in a public setting.

  • Having a 1 on 1 meeting with my manager to discuss the issue.

Pros: More private and he has the ability to actually enforce the change. Cons: He's among the people not complying. So I'm still going to be pointing the finger at him.

  • Report things to the State.

Pros: Probably get what I want. Cons: Probably completely destroy my credibility if it is revealed that I made the report.

I am looking for input whether any of these is preferable or if there's an option I've not considered. Is there any guidance to be offered regarding how I can remind all of these more senior employees about the importance of wearing a mask?

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    In your location are there any legal obligations to wear masks? Could your company president receive fines for not enforcing the rules? – Binyomin May 7 at 6:15
  • @binyomin there could be legal consequences if I reported to the State. I haven't considered this route because of the potential blowback. – Pyrotechnical May 7 at 11:27
  • @SZCZERZOKLY were these all peers or subordinates, I could easily do that. But everyone in the room is more senior than me. And this includes the company president who issued the original policy. – Pyrotechnical May 7 at 11:29
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    Does this answer your question? Workplace badly mishandling COVID-19 response – Philipp May 7 at 12:27
  • @Philipp not really. I think the issues I'm experiencing are less about vigilant insistence that everyone be at the office (we are allowed to work remotely). My issue is that the work I'm doing does require in-person coordination or a much more robust teleconference ability that we don't yet have. We've got 1 person who handles are IT, so I'm reticent to ask anything of her, because I'm sure she's stretched pretty thin right now. – Pyrotechnical May 7 at 12:31
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I'd probably go with something like your first option, but word it along the lines of "Since I've got a medical condition which makes me belong to an an at-risk category from COVID-19 I'd ask you to please wear a mask during this meeting". This could mitigate the problem about "calling people out" a bit since it's not like "you can't follow even the simplest of rules" but rather like "here's some facts you might not have known when deciding not to wear a mask".

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Is there any guidance to be offered regarding how I can remind all of these more senior employees about the importance of wearing a mask?

For a start I'd attend a meeting wearing a mask and ask if the rules have been changed or something since no one else is wearing one. Then have a strategy depending on the answer to that.

It's a serious health risk so I'd just be up front about it to all concerned at the first opportunity. Reasonable adults wouldn't find this offensive and it doesn't single anyone out.

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  • I've attended a couple meetings so far with a mask, but not said anything about the absence of everyone else's mask. Are you suggesting that at the next one, I more or less force the issue? – Pyrotechnical May 7 at 12:55
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    Yeah, that's what I'm suggesting. The mask doesn't do much towards keeping you safe if you're uninfected, but it does a lot to prevent spreading to others if you are. So you wearing one alone is a bit of a waste of time. But the way I suggest is not forcing anything, it's asking for info and giving an opening for dialogue. – Kilisi May 7 at 12:56
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    The most likely reply is probably that they're all sure they don't have the virus. If that happens, OP could point to the long incubation period and their own at-risk state due to their asthma. – Llewellyn May 7 at 18:56
  • @Llewellyn I wouldn't actually expect that response from responsible intelligent adults, but it's a possibility. Usually when something is pointed out to reasonable people who should be setting the example they just quietly comply with their own rules. Maybe a cultural thing though, locales may differ. – Kilisi May 7 at 21:53
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I figured I would post an answer regarding what I did on this and the general result thus far. These results will not necessarily be the same for everyone, but may be useful for somebody else having this problem.

First of all, I spoke with the handful of other co-workers who were already wearing masks or were at risk. I wanted to be sure that there was some communal support on this before I raised the issue.

Secondly, I spoke with our IT person who is also one of the few wearing a mask. They had indicated they'd expressed a concern to management, so at that point, I knew any issue I raised would not be the first time management had heard the concern. In addition, I inquired about the extent of our conference call abilities, including screen sharing to allow multiple people to review plans at their computers without being in the same room. Supposedly it's possible, but there's a small cost, which is effectively insignificant ($40 per month total for 10 project managers).

With this information in hand, I elected to have a one on one meeting with my manager to discuss the issue. I presented the idea of having a preference for using the online meetings that I'd discussed with IT. He pushed back on the cost of it (I'm not sure why $40 a month is a break point, but whatever).

I then raised the concern about folks failing to wear masks, including him not wearing a mask in the one on one meeting we were having. I also disclosed my medical condition. My thought process on this is that I'm protected by ADA, have documented the interaction, and have presented a reasonable accommodation.

In addition, I raised concerns about consequences to the company in the event of an asymptomatic employee causing a breakout within the company because contact tracing would easily lead back to the company. During interviews, there would likely be an issue where people are asked about wearing masks and folks would have to say 'no'. At which time, I wasn't sure what penalties, if any would apply. In retrospect, this might have been construed as a vague threat; it wasn't the intent, but it was a real issue that I felt management should be aware of.

Lastly, I indicated that I feel I am able to be much more productive working at the office instead of at home due to the many distractions I need to deal with at home. Often 40 hours of work at home takes a lot more than that. As a result, projects are often delayed and I'm unable to provide any sort of overtime because I'm already spent and risking burnout. My preference is to work in the office, but I cannot do so unless I feel safe doing so.

Later that day, we received a package of cloth masks that had presumably already been ordered and the company president sent out an e-mail reminding people to wear masks. This all occurred last Thursday. When I came to the office on Tuesday, there seemed to be a lot more compliance when people were walking around the office, but there were still some outlier issues.

Right now, there's a few senior employees not wearing masks as they go around the office. They may have a medical condition that inhibits this. My plan to address this going forward is to request that they wear a mask because I'm in an at-risk group. If they cannot comply, then I'll request the meeting shift to an online format using shared screens.

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  • As an aside, I think management may be a little annoyed with me, but I don't think they're angry. I suspect given a bit of time, this will feel more 'natural' and that annoyance will subside. – Pyrotechnical May 13 at 13:45

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