Skip to main content
Ask the Bitches: "How do I push back when my workplace isn't taking COVID-19 seriously?"

Ask the Bitches Pandemic Lightning Round: “How Do I Push Back When My Workplace Isn’t Taking COVID-19 Seriously?”

Welcome to the Ask the Bitches Pandemic Lightning Round! We’re working around the clock to answer your questions about coronavirus, the impact of quarantine, and the recession of 2020.

Phew. Are y’all getting tired by all these articles yet? We’re not! We’re as tireless as a team of Amish-raised mules, and JUST AS ADORABLE!*

Today, we’re considering the health ramifications of a boss who just don’t give a damn about this global pandemic. Fun stuff!

We’ll be coming at you fast this week, answering as many urgent questions as we can. If you appreciate the extra effort, we would love a small donation on our Patreon. Thank you!

*The first part is a lie; the second one is not.

The question

I’ve been working as an hourly temp at a business since August. My supervisor wanted to hire me. She was beginning this process when COVID-19 hit. Now all hands are on deck.

All company employees who can work from home are. But my supervisor can’t get me a company laptop to work from home, and encouraged me to come to work. I have asthma, so I’m very aware of how careful I must be. I’m wary of how well they clean the office and how seriously some employees are taking this crisis.

Should I continue going to work? I want to keep saving, but I also want to keep myself safe. I’ll take any tips you have.

There are still some workplaces that aren’t taking this pandemic seriously. Hopefully their numbers are shrinking as quickly as COVID-19 cases are rising.

If you’re unlucky enough to be stuck working at one, let’s talk about how to handle it. It shouldn’t be your job to handle it! But in Corporate America, managing other people’s idiocies is always half the job!

From a pure physical health perspective, you shouldn’t take the risk of going in to work. But financial instability wouldn’t benefit your stress, immune system, or mental health. So we have to try to balance those interests. That’s the repulsive calculus of our reprehensible system, where losing your job also means losing your health insurance at the worst possible time.

Here’s what I suggest.

The answer

Understand your legal rights

My extremely non-lawyerly understanding of the law is this: you have preexisting health conditions which are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Even as a temporary worker, you are entitled to reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

Needing to work from home to avoid becoming a high-risk Covid-19 patient is a very reasonable accommodation! And because non-temp workers are able to work from home, you know it isn’t unreasonable to ask; the infrastructure and policies exist.

Because you’re a temp worker, both the temping company (which I’ll call Silly Staffing) and the actual company you’re working for (which I’ll call Wackicorp) share the legal obligation of meeting your reasonable requests for accommodation.

Them’s your legal rights, as I understand ’em.

Strategize the ask

Now the tricky part is maximizing the odds of getting this full-time job.

It may be off the table due to economic and supply turmoil. And if that’s the case, man, I’m so sorry, that’s awful timing.

But if there’s a chance you’ll have a better, steadier job going into this recession, you’ve got to pursue it aggressively.

If you barrel-roll through a plate glass window, ADA guns blazing, you may scare them away. You don’t want them to think you’re litigious or troublesome and move on to someone else. (It’s not legal for them to do that. But it’s also extremely hard to prove. Plus you probably can’t afford an attorney if you don’t have a job. Just being real.)

So I would start by appealing to your boss at Wackicorp. Send her an email using a script like this…

“I am really excited by this role, and I’m eager to give Wackicorp my all attention during this time of great need. With that said, I have a preexisting lung condition. Everything I’m reading from the CDC suggests that my demographic is at great risk of deadly complications from COVID-19. Additionally, [state governor] is instructing as many people as possible to stay home. With the way other states are going, it’s possible I won’t have a choice soon.

“Given all that, can you work with me to create a plan to start working from home as soon as possible? I understand that the normal procedure is to not give contract workers laptops, but these are extraordinary times. I don’t want to put my health (or the health of others) at risk, or be abruptly cut off from my duties if mandatory quarantine measures are enacted. I am happy to go through additional security measures if that’s what it takes.”

And yes, I strongly advise that this communication be via email. Do everything in writing so you have a paper trail.

If they won’t play ball, have a plan B

Hopefully that’s enough to work. If it’s not, here’s what I would do next:

If they decline, ask for a different kind of accommodation: your desk must be moved to a private room, or pulled several feet away from anyone else. And you need a stock of sanitizing wipes to clean the surfaces you touch. Take that responsibility on yourself. Don’t trust anyone to do it properly for you! It’s not your job, but it is your life. It’s not worth the risk.

While that’s happening, reach out to whoever your contact is at Silly Staffing. Explain the situation, and ask for their support. I would use a very similar script, but use the phrase “reasonable accommodation” at least once. That’s a clear signal your contact will understand to mean you’re informed about your ADA rights and willing to go to bat for them. Make it their job to give Wackicorp the push it needs to find a compromise.

Bide your time

More and more cities and states are waking up to the urgency of this crisis. On any given day, the local, state, or federal government may say “tough titties, Wackicorp, your employees are officially not allowed to leave their homes to come in.”

I pray that happens soon.

I know y’all can’t see me, because I live inside the computer, but I am white with rage that anyone has to make this stupid, unnecessary Sophie’s choice: risk your health and keep your health insurance, or preserve your health and lose your insurance along with your income.

Update

This question was asked by Patreon donor Amelia.

Between the time I responded to her question privately and posted it here, she learned that her temporary job was now officially gone. I was not surprised, but I am still grieved. I want to thank Amelia for being our donor. We wish her godspeed on her heroic decision to divide her time between looking for a new job and helping facilitate mail-in voting. Our system is unacceptable. It needed to change fifty fucking years ago.

We gave Amelia our blessing to stop donating to BGR for now. We can’t accept money from people whose financial lives aren’t stable. If you want to subsidize this content for people like Amelia who can’t, please visit our Patreon.

Even a few bucks for a few months would help us stay focused on these important topics. Cancel any time your situation changes. We understand.

6 thoughts to “Ask the Bitches Pandemic Lightning Round: “How Do I Push Back When My Workplace Isn’t Taking COVID-19 Seriously?””

  1. I hope this works for her! Sadly, I work for a state of NY hospital, and found out today nothing corona-related is considered “reasonable accommodations.” Can you believe that???

  2. That was excellent advice, especially dropping a key phrase in to show you know your rights under the law. Asthma is indeed protected by ADA. Corona may not be covered but its potential to impact asthma would be. I’m not a lawyer but I was on the other side of the desk as someone who ran a very large company. I think any employer that tries to say otherwise is going to get hammered in court. However temporary employees finding their job suddenly disappeared for some “unrelated reason”, there is little defense for that, even if it is an evil thing to do. Most companies do a pretty good job of not being incredibly stupid or evil but there is always someone who is the poster child.

    1. Yeah, I’ve always found the premise of “most companies are decent” to be sadly flawed… because of course a minority ARE evil to their employees. It’s our hope that this pandemic and recession will encourage our governments to enact more laws to protect workers from suck shitfuckery!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *