our CEO’s plans for re-opening are loony and stressful

A reader writes:

Even before the start of the COVID-19 crisis, our CEO has demonstrated questionable leadership, but it has taken center stage during our new mandatory bi-weekly Zoom calls with all 300+ employees. These calls are meant to be an open forum for staff questions, but they end up being a chaotic platform for her to fixate on the virus deaths and typically leave staff with a lot more anxiety than clarity about the company’s planning.

On our most recent call, someone asked how all staff would be accommodated in our office once we re-open. Understandably, there is no plan in place yet since our state is still in the early stages of re-opening. Instead of offering to follow up with a more thoughtful answer later, our CEO went on a long rant about the latest virus headlines and eventually proposed that staff’s age, weight, and potentially even race, could be considered determinants for employees physically returning to the office. She particularly went into great detail about how much weight people are likely gaining at home. You can imagine how triggering people found these statements during a time when we are all facing stressful realities.

We have always known our CEO to have narcissistic tendencies, but this last meeting has left many of us feeling horrified and disillusioned, particularly because no one in a leadership position saw anything wrong with her comments. My team is wonderful and we all take great pride in the work that we do, but days later, we are still reeling and not sure how we can help fix the system from within. Is there anything you would suggest we do individually and collectively?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today.

I’m also answering a question about whether getting arrested at a protest will affect you professionally.

Head over there to read them both.

{ 165 comments… read them below }

  1. Lena Clare*

    She sounds awful OP, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this at such a stressful time. I think going through a situation like this really highlights the good and the bad of people… and it’s highlighted her lack of empathy.

    1. Sue*

      My first thought was the CEO is one of the Real Housewives on one of those shows, playing to the cameras for attention/air time? So bad I can’t imagine how this person got to be a CEO..

      1. SusanIvanova*

        It’s easy when you’re the founder and your product is popular enough that you make sales despite yourself.

          1. Eukomos*

            Founder’s Syndrome is more about the mismatch between the set of skills it takes to set up a company or organization and the set of skills it takes to sustain and grow an organization. Plenty of good people and skilled founders nevertheless end up caught in Founder’s Syndrome and need to be willing to step down and hand their baby over to someone else eventually.

            1. WoodswomanWrites*

              I agree that this is the definition I’ve heard in the context of nonprofits.

  2. Crystal*

    For LW#2, my company has a pretty hard line about prior arrests on a background check, but we still ask potential employees for an explanation and if it makes sense (i.e. co-worker got into a fight in a bar defending a woman who was being harassed) they handwave it away. Any company that wouldn’t hire you after a protest against racism and police brutality probably isn’t an employer you want to work for, so that’s one way to look at it :)

    1. Observer*

      I was thinking the same thing about working for an employer that would have a problem with being at a protest.

      1. Mid*

        Yup. My employer is concerned about COVID-19 infections, but as long as I’m following our office safety precautions, they don’t care what I do in my free time, which is how it should be*. (I’m also pretty much the only person physically in the office most days.)

        *there are some obvious limitations on that. If your employment involves working with say, children, and your free time hobby is stealing candy from babies, then they might take issue with that. If your work involves building trust in a community and your free time activities undermine that trust, your employer should be concerned about that impact. But if you want to go to nudist resorts or make weird YouTube videos about which household products best reflect alien rays, then that should be your choice.

    2. ursula*

      Yeah. I think what you realistically would have on your hands is a really succinct device for reading the politics of a workplace you’re interviewing with. Even many people who would generally look down on protest actions view these ones as unusually legitimate, so I would specify that it was “the anti-racist protests over George Floyd’s death in 2020”.

      Some people (and employers) will absolutely view that negatively, probably more as a result of their view of the issue than of your actions or the charge. I think that’s inevitable, and depending on your status, the economy, your sector, and a bunch of other factors, I wouldn’t want to hand waive that away. Hopefully you have enough leverage (and, honestly, privilege) to decide that you wouldn’t want those jobs anyway.

    3. Clisby*

      Assuming you were arrested for something like breaking curfew, failure to disperse, etc. – I wouldn’t think it mattered. If you were charged with burglary and arson – it would.

      1. Helena1*

        I guess the problem is that “what you were arrested for” and “what you were actually doing” may be two very different things. Especially as a POC, and especially in the current climate.

    4. Wing Leader*

      Honestly, if I were an employer, I wouldn’t care about most prior arrests, especially for things like disorderly conduct/disturbing the peace/etc. I’d write it off as a stupid decision. We’ve all made dumb mistakes, it’s just that most of are lucky enough for it not to be documented.

      The only prior arrests that would give me pause are violent crimes/felonies like arson/assault/armed robbery/etc.

      1. Baker's dozen*

        I have two convictions for two different protests. It hasn’t caused me any problems in my career at all. I’ve mostly worked in the third sector for the past 12 years which tends to be more sympathetic. When I’ve applied to public sector jobs it typically needs to be signed off by a committee but they always have signed off without quibbling.

      2. rear mech*

        Your arrest record includes whatever the arresting officer writes down. It’s very common to write down “assaulting a police officer” when no such thing occurred, and then just not bring the charges. It’s a spite/F.U. thing against someone who irritated them or was perceived to be disrespectful.
        Source: friend couldn’t get a volunteer position working with at-risk kids because she has an assault on her arrest record. She wasn’t even charged because it didn’t happen! and so of course there was no evidence/grounds to do so.

    5. Show Me the Money*

      Anybody can be arrested for anything. It’s convictions that should matter.

    6. Jiya*

      Yeah, let’s see how many of these arrests hold up longer than tissue paper after an almighty sneeze. I remember how it went down after the RNC in New York – kettling, mass arrests, the whole shebang – and I’m pretty sure something like 90% of the charges were dropped, the arrests were ruled unconstitutional, and NYC had to pony up damages. Apparently they are completely incapable of learning from experience, but courts are kind of the opposite of that.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        I don’t think the city paying monetary damages to the wrongfully arrested is any kind of disincentive to doing it again. It’s a) just a price the city has to pay to shut down protest and get on with the show the donors are paying for, so just a cost of business as usual, and b) not the decision-makers’ money anyway. So what if the subsequent lawsuits cost the city millions?

    7. A Cat named Brian*

      Be very careful #2. You can not be hired as an educator in K12 with ANY arrest record in my state. I had an 58 year old instructor that had a theft charge at 17 and had to go to a legislative rep and the state board to get approval to hire. And that took 6 months. Others have not been so lucky. The only way we got it waved is that he was a juvenile and it shouldn’t have shown up!

      1. StrikingFalcon*

        Yes, background checks for working with kids can be a whole different ball game from the run of the mill checks most employers do. You need to be really clear on what the law is in your particular state. Schools often care about a lot of things that frankly aren’t any of their business. It’s “but think of the kids!!!” codified into law and policy.

  3. EPLawyer*

    Get out, get out, get out. If Senior Leadership heard something like “take race into account” when making employment decisions and didn’t correct that as soon as possible, the whole place is full of BEES. She is the Queen Bee and Senior Leaderhip are all buzzing around her. I don’t blame SL for not shutting it down immediately due to sheer shock she would say that. But they should have done something later. If they didn’t that tells you all you need to know.

    Your wonderful team can’t make this place sane. you can only save yourself and encourage your team to look to their own interests.

    1. Eukomos*

      Getting another job isn’t as easy as falling off a log in this economy. Some people are going to have to find ways to manage and (hopefully) improve the situations they’re stuck in for a while yet.

  4. Dust Bunny*

    “proposed that staff’s age, weight, and potentially even race, could be considered determinants “

    What.

    On the one hand I can’t picture how this would even work. Like . . . if people the size of our intern went back first they could fit more of them in despite being six feet apart, than if people my size went back?

    But on the other, I don’t even want to know.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, weight . . . wrong, of course, but maaaybe; height . . . ehhhh; race . . . nope, we’re in loony land.

      2. hbc*

        I’m assuming race relates to the fact that the virus is disproportionately affecting black communities. I’m not surprised at all that some people can’t/won’t understand the complexities behind this observation (less access to testing, good medical care, lower average income, more likely to live in densely-populated areas, etc) and replace it with a simple “They’re more at risk, they should stay home.”

        But yeah, fired. Because 1) people who don’t understand complex situations shouldn’t be leading organizations and 2) even if the logic was correct, you don’t go improv on an EEOC-related area in front of your whole staff.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          “some people can’t/won’t understand the complexities behind this observation ”

          Won’t. They don’t want to.

        2. Eukomos*

          More likely to have suffered heavy exposure to pollution and have lung ailments as a result as well, the level of asthma in children who live near highways or factories that release air pollution is sky high and they are, inevitably, disproportionately black. Lack of environmental justice once again comes around to harm communities of color.

      3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Did LW change the gender and is this actually about Elon Musk?

        This sounds like his flavor of crazy.

          1. KTB*

            And predictably, they are already getting sick. It’s almost like this series of events was preventable…

    1. TooTiredToThink*

      I looked at it as she’s thinking that since (supposedly) overweight people are more likely to have the diseases that make Covid-19 more dangerous, that it would be easier to screen for that than to ask if people have those diseases. Same with race; right now Covid-19 has been disproportionately affecting blacks.

      Still – not at all a good reasoning for it at all. But that’s what I *think* she’s thinking.

      1. Katrinka*

        And I would understand that sort of wrong thinking if this were a manager giving off the cuff information. But this is the frigging CEO of a rather large company. She absolutely went about her answer the entirely wrong way and to include that in a rant about COVID-19 in general demonstrates a SERIOUS cognitive dissonance. If I were on the board of the company I would be having meetings yesterday to figure out how to replace her. As well as putting out a statement denouncing her statements and explaining that the company will take a reasoned approach to re-opening, including your state and local restrictions/recommendations.

      2. Rebecca1*

        “Blacks” is typically considered a pejorative way to refer to Black people. (The capital B has less of a consensus, as far as I know, but I use it since at least some people prefer it.)

        1. Koalafied*

          This is a good example of where turning an adjective in a noun changes its meaning in a negative way.

          See also: female participants vs females, Jewish community vs Jews. Using these adjectives as nouns subtly reduces the person’s existence to that one adjective.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            “Jews” is not pejorative. (I mean, people sometimes use it as a pejorative, but we are Jews, and it’s not a slur.)

            It’s not your fault for not knowing this — lots of people don’t, and when you hear public figures carefully saying “the Jewish people,” it leads people to believe something is wrong with saying Jews. But there’s not, as long as you’re not using it as a slur.

            (And sorry, I know this is a tangent, but it grates to hear people saying that the actual word for what you are is somehow pejorative.)

            1. Clisby*

              Years ago, when I was a newspaper copy editor in Charleston, SC, we were told never to use the word “Jews” in a headline, because so often that was used as a pejorative. To the ridiculous extent that we couldn’t even have a headline like “Jews around the world prepare for Passover.” We’d have to contort the headline into something like “Jewish people around the world prepare for Passover.” I think they meant it well, but in practice it was ridiculous.

          2. Avasarala*

            Context is really important for all of these. If you’re talking about current events and you throw out “blacks are protesting” then yes it sounds othering and pejorative. But if you’re discussing scientific results and how things affect blacks and Latinos, or male and female participants, then it’s not necessarily pejorative.

            It’s also indicative of the fact that we’re so used to people referring to “blacks” and “Jews” pejoratively that even the word itself starts to sound like a slur.

        2. TooTiredToThink*

          Hmm, I have literally never heard that before – but also I rarely actually say “blacks”* (at least I don’t think I do) either and while a quick google search isn’t actually giving me results, I can see why it might come across in a negative way. Normally I’d be like – Alison has a rule about nitpicking language… however in this instance I think the nitpicking can definitely stand, thanks!

          *I’m pretty sure I had meant to type black people – I remember debating between typing African-American and black and apparently that’s how it came out *sigh*.

      3. nonegiven*

        I thought he meant if they are gaining weight at home they should go back sooner than people who are losing or holding their same weight.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Charitably, I’ll say that maybe the boss meant people with higher risk factors would not come back as early and there are some studies that overweight people are at higher risk (though there is nothing confirmed that I’m aware of).

      Same with stats showing that black people are disproportionately impacted, but I assume that is due to a number of systematic racism issues and not because they are more susceptible.

      Either way, it’s all utter crap and if that was what she was going for, she failed miserably.

      1. Star*

        Same with stats showing that black people are disproportionately impacted, but I assume that is due to a number of systematic racism issues and not because they are more susceptible.

        Being Black, I’ve been reading up on our increased risk and it does seem to me to be entirely due to societal factors and not to any increased biological susceptibility, yes. But I am Not an Expert, of course.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I have not seeing anything that indicates legitimate biological factors over societal ones, and while I am not an expert, either, I work for a medical school library that has been collecting articles with the assistance of a long list of legitimate medical organizations.

          1. Amy Sly*

            I’ve seen that genetics factor into severity; those with Type A blood have a 50% higher chance of needing a ventilator. But that is unlikely to contribute to any increased risk for the black population, as the racial breakdown of people with Type A blood in the US is African-America 26%, Asian 28%, Caucasian 40%, Hispanic 31%.

          2. JustaTech*

            As an immunologist the only non-societal factor I could possibly imagine is that people with recent African ancestry tend, as a group, to have more T-cells (a specific type of immune cell) than people with less recent African ancestry. But I don’t know if T-cells are specifically implicated in worse outcomes to COVID.

            Ugh, this is reminding me of a study I had to do looking at immune cells in Asian people for a group in China. As though people in the US who identify as Asian have any genetic or genealogical similarity to people who live in China. It was so uncomfortable to talk about and a huge waste of time. Race is a social construct!

        2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          Even if there is some genetic/biological reason, that’d be in addition to the massive social issues that affect health care and black people. People who are poorer and face historic discrimination in health care are faring worse in a pandemic should surprise no one.

          1. Avasarala*

            Agreed. Race is only relevant in science and medicine because of the social treatment of those phenotypes and cultures.

          2. Wintermute*

            I read a great breakdown of people that say “we’re all in the same boat” that broke that down– we’re all in the same STORM, but we’re not in the same boat. Some people are in yachts, some people are in houseboats, some people are in little rubber rafts and some people are clinging to driftwood, but we’re all facing the same storm.

        3. Quill*

          From an environmental health perspective, you’ve got social factors (access, lack of previous preventative care, etc,) and you have environmental factors (minority districts, especially those that are both lower income and predominantly black, are far more likely to have been exposed to industrial waste, especially airborne and waterborne waste,) and both appear to be contributing heavily.

        4. Show Me the Money*

          Black person here too, you are correct. In my major metropolitan hard-hit area, the state opened a drive thru testing facilty last in the area where most black people live. The first was opened about as far from black people as you could get. Embedded instituitional racism is a thing.

      2. GreenDoor*

        Weight…race….yes some groups appear to be disproportionately affected. But you can’t make a blanket refusal to let them back in. Plus, there are other groups at greater risk who aren’t as obvious. Like me, as a diabetic.
        Or those with immuno-compromised systems. Or anyone who lives with an elderly relative or healthcare worker. This is particularly worrisome in a workplace where you don’t get paid unless you work. Someone with a risk condition that could easily be hidden (like my diabetes that no one at work knows about) could come in and work and keep getting paid while someone whose risk condition (racial demographic) loses hours.

        If there’s a gentle way to point this out to the CEO, I’d try it. But she does sound really out of touch – both with labor law and as far as where people’s emotions are at right now.

        1. Show Me the Money*

          I hope this CEO gets the pants sued off of her if she tries her nonsense. Test and trace everyone, institute all safeguards possible, keep using work at home to the maximum degree possible, these are useful non-discriminatory covid-19 control measures. Good grief. The Peter Principle on full display here.

      3. Daria*

        I think this CEO could use a little less charity in how we’re interpreting what she said. While it’s possible her intentions were good or kind, the impact is that she said something ignorant and racist to her entire company.

        Not to go on too much of a tangent, but this impact/intent issue is something that Robin DiAngelo talks about in her work on white fragility and I think is relevant here. (I’m assuming the CEO is white). According to DiAngelo, white people often focus on intent, to the point where they’ll get defensive and argue that the impact of their behavior shouldn’t really count as long as they had good intentions. She describes it as: “You know, insistence that ‘I did not mean to do that, so therefore, you know, get over it.’ As opposed to what would be much more constructive in terms of repairing the breach: ‘I did not mean to do that, and I would never have wanted to do that, but I see that I have indeed done that, and for that I apologize’, you know, ‘where can we go from here?'” (The rest of the interview can be found here: https://www.blinkist.com/magazine/posts/robin-diangelo-think-impact-not-intention-transcript) I wonder what would happen if anyone called the CEO out on what she said.

    3. acmx*

      Not that I agree with the CEO’s statement but I think what she’s trying to say is they would take into account those that are considered higher risk: over 65, obesity and minorities can be higher risk.

      1. Observer*

        Please. Minorities are at statistically higher risk not because of underlying conditions, but because of factors that are not relevant to this situation. For instance, people in many types of “essential” jobs are at higher risk – and those are jobs with a very high proportion of minorities. It’s the JOB that’s a risk factor, not the race. etc.

        And beyond that, employers are not allowed to make that determination for employees – employees get to tell their employer if they are at higher risk and probably need to back it up with some documentation.

        1. acmx*

          As I said, I don’t agree with the CEO just offering that the statement had a bit of basis in what the CDC says can be risk factors.

          1. Show Me the Money*

            So what? It was a ridiculous statement to make. Those with families or who live with people who are at risk but are not at risk personally may need accomodation.

        2. Eukomos*

          That may not be the case, it’s suspected that lack of equitable access to healthcare and increased exposure to health (especially lung) harming pollutants does increase the incidence in the black population of underlying conditions that make people susceptible to severe cases of COVID. The dangerous job disparity definitely contributes, but a lifetime of insufficient healthcare unsurprisingly puts them at risk.

      2. JSPA*

        Correlation is not causality. (See thoughtful responses above.)

        If they pay equally for WFH and work-from-office, I assume they can offer those with a note from a doctor saying that they are at “higher risk” preference in working from home.

        That’s nothing like saying, “you can’t come back because you share an easily visible and protected characteristic with people who have been disproportionately infected, and perhaps disproportionately severely infected.”

        Plus, within protected classes, is anybody saying “have the men stay home / remain furloughed because testes can be a reservoir”? Or is this mostly, “let’s Other the same people who get Othered, all the time”?

        That said, there have been multiple indications that COVID-19 secondary response, which is a form of immune over-reaction, is exacerbated by standing low-level inflammation and levels of C-reactive protein (link to follow). Standing low-level inflammation, in turn, can be caused (and is correlated) with excess adipose tissue (which is not the same as obesity, but is often conflated with that easier-to-measure metric) and metabolic syndrome (link to follow). The latter can, however, be significantly modified by fitness.

        So far as I know, nobody who’s published on COVID has systematically parsed out those who are “fit-fat” (active and bulky with muscle as well as fat, which also charts as “obese”) nor tracking metabolic syndrome in those who are “high-adipose-thin” (an often invisible group who chart as non-obese, but have many of the same metabolic problems that people associate with obesity).

        Remember, it’s all broad brush strokes, and not all of the data is excellent. This isn’t surprising, given that there have been times when the medical system can’t even correctly record name and next-of-kin between hospital intake and burial.

        1. JSPA*

          One of many C-reactive protein or other inflammatory markers as predictors of COVID severity:
          https://academic.oup.com/ofid/article/7/5/ofaa153/5826961

          And an irritatingly worded study (ignoring fit-fat / non-metabolic syndrome obesity*) which nevertheless sums up some of the connections between obesity and metabolic syndrome, and between metabolic syndrome and general inflammation, and between excess adipose and specific triggers of inflammation (pre-COVID, this is just background):
          https://academic.oup.com/ofid/article/7/5/ofaa153/5826961

          *quite a number of studies have found that exercise moderately-to-dramatically reduces levels of C-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation in subjects who have metabolically-linked high baseline inflammation, even without significant downshifts in BMI. How many people successfully remain active at adequate levels, long-term, without injury and resulting inactivity, remains a question under study.

      3. Wintermute*

        That’s true, unfortunately, most of those are also protected classes. You’d have a really hard sell to try to tell people that using hypothetical risk factors, but only some of them, is a bona fide business purpose for discrimination.

        The PROPER way to do this is what my work did at the very beginning for us essential workers. We had to keep coming to work at the physical location, but if you had any medical risk factor you could talk to HR and they would work things out so you could continue to work from home, HR didn’t tell your boss what your risk factor was, they just said you had a valid reason and you were to work from home. Then they hired temp workers that were glorified security guards to take care of the physical stuff the work-from-home people literally couldn’t do.

        I thought it was a great compromise. I disagree that 24/7 staffing is needed even in this situation, but that’s the decree that came down from on high, they really made the best of it they could by making it easy and quick to get work-from-home privileges, and they took strong steps to protect their confidentiality and privacy, as well as put an absolute quash on any retaliation.

      4. Keymaster of Gozer*

        The bit added on about how ‘people are gaining weight at home’ kinda makes me feel that this CEO is looking for ‘blame’ factors, not reasons to accommodate higher risk groups.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yep. Or she could be inappropriately blathering some kind of personal anxiety spiral at her staff in a really cringeworthy way….

    4. Susana*

      I’m assuming the crazy CEO has read that people are at higher risk of getting sicker/dying from COVID if obese or older, and that African-Americans are at great er risk in general (getting worse health care being part of it). But just stunned a CEO would say something not only racist, etc. but *actionable* in front of the whole company….

    5. MommyMD*

      Covid hits the obese population and people of color harder. I think she was trying to be protective of staff, but said it in a terrible way. She is speaking of comorbidities and at-risk groups.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        It’s hitting people of color as a whole harder because of lower income and worse health care. I’m not aware of any evidence that it’s worse for any particular black person if you control for those factors.

        1. MommyMD*

          Of course all those factors play in. I’m not saying otherwise. I’m remarking that that may be what boss was referring to in her poorly laid out statement.

        1. MommyMD*

          Many infections, including influenza, can hit those who suffer from obesity harder. So can Covid. The immune system and cellular response can be hit differently. It’s a definite factor that’s been known for years. Top it with diabetes in some and the risk can be many times more.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Also, being fat can often mean receiving substandard health care. (The answer to everything is ‘just lose weight’ or ‘I’m not treating your problems till you’re not fat’. How many times have I heard those….)

      2. Show Me the Money*

        Not being a medical or public health professional, the CEO should have just shut her mouth and said the company would follow best practices upon reopening. Her remarks were thoughtless and ignorant.

    6. SomebodyElse*

      It sounds like it was a really really really bad way of saying that those things can be indications of risk factor for COVID.

      For example there has been statements put out that people with a BMI over X is at a higher risk, same with age, and race is also being looked at as an indicator of risk.

      I think the msg would have been totally different if she had something like “We will be evaluation people based on risk factors and potential severity… blah blah blah”

      1. Show Me the Money*

        The company needs to evaluate no one, that’s excessively paternalistic. I assume this company employs adults.

        1. Killing Trees and Shoving Them in File Cabinets*

          Agree. The company will be in legal hot water for evaluating that way. If the company does the selecting on its own based on anything other what job role has a higher need to be in the office (say, business development or whoever does employee in-processing) and who doesn’t, they are potentially discriminating against their employees. What I’m seeing is that for early phases, where places that have been able to have their people telework and they are only bringing back 25-50% of employees to the office, they are mostly letting employees self-select based on the employee comfort level without a lot of digging into it. Obviously, once places are wanting to be closer to 100% live in office again, HR may be asking what specific risk factor(s) are keeping them from coming back into the office, and may require documentation. Not everybody wants HR or their supervisor to know the details of their medical conditions, even though this is supposed to be protected information. Exactly how everything will work is still kind of a moving target, but there are a LOT of free webinars being put out right now by professional organizations and legal consulting firms that cover new legislation, CDC recommendations, how all that plays in (or potentially plays in) with OSHA, HIPAA, discrimination law, etc. For a while, I was attending a webinar of some sort related to COVID-19 and my industry every week. Some of them are probably still available free via recording. This sort of stuff may help lobby management for what some good approaches are will back you up on why things like what was suggested are a very risky approach for the company.

    7. just a random teacher*

      In my state, the state Department of Education basically said that teachers and other staff who met a pretty long list of criteria, including things like being over a certain age, having certain health conditions, or having a BMI over a certain amount, couldn’t be required to report for in-person work rather than working from home and would not face employment consequences for continuing to stay at home. That seems like a related idea, but the emphasis is on providing additional job protections for unusually vulnerable workers who choose to stay home rather than the schools being in charge of deciding that people in those groups can’t come in even if they want to.

      How this will actually work in practice if the policy continues once schools are re-opened in any meaningful way will probably be a mess (right now they’re just open for take-out meals and limited childcare for essential workers, with all actual instruction at home, so they were able to find sufficient people to do those tasks without running out of employees in lower risk categories as far as I can tell), but I’m much more sympathetic to the idea when it’s framed around protecting workers who choose to limit their own risks rather than a company deciding for them. On my school’s staff, I suspect we’d have over half of our staff in one higher risk category or another (I don’t know everyone’s health details, but I know of several diabetics and people over 65 because those tend to be things you find out socially when you work with someone long enough), so I do wonder how they’d make it work if we needed to have coverage to teach in person.

      1. Killing Trees and Shoving Them in File Cabinets**

        It’s definitely different to allow employees to SELF-SELECT without penalty based on a list of conditions than to try to determine just by looking at them (or looking up their age or whatever in their HR file) and select FOR THEM that they WON’T BE ALLOWED back in the office. You can’t do that.
        There will be “at risk” people who want (or need) to come back into the office once it’s open. The employer can’t make them not come in if the office is open. (Mostly. If you’re only running x% capacity and it was first come first served on those slots, everyone got the same notice, and they just weren’t fast enough in responding, you probably don’t have to go over capacity.

        There will also be young, healthy people with no risk factors who do not have immediate household members with risk factors who will be afraid to come up. The employer CAN make them come. Or let them go.

  5. Neon*

    Do you have to have your camera on during these Zoom calls? If not, how does anybody know you’re watching?

    Even if you do need to be on camera could you log in, mute your PC, and then just do other work with your face in the frame?

    Her loony plans are unlikely to actually come to fruition, so no need to bother yourself with her stress inducing stream-of-consciousness rants.

    LW doesn’t have to fix their CEO, they just need to find an effective way ignore and work around her.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      If, by “an effective way to ignore and work around her,” you actually mean “get that resume updated and circulating NOW-NOW-NOW and find a sane place to work,” then I would agree with you.

      I had a parent like the CEO. I am here to tell you that it Is Not Possible to work around that kind of crazy. The only work-around involves walking out the door and building yourself a new, saner reality.

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      There’s also the “record a video of yourself paying attention and use it as a virtual background” trick. If you cover your camera only the background will be visible. (I use this cover-the-camera trick to put up messages in place of my face when needed – I just quickly make a PowerPoint slide with the text I need, screenshot it, set the screenshot as my virtual background, and cover my camera.)

      I mean, that’s not the way this should be handled in a company that’s functioning well, but if you’ve already concluded that everything is full of bees and you’re going to disengage from the bee-filled meetings as a survival strategy on your way out, that’s a technical solution to a problem that is not, at its heart, a technical problem.

  6. Traffic_Spiral*

    I wonder if someone had the presence of mind to record it and just sit on it until the day they get a new job, and then post it to the web as an epic ‘fuck this shit I’m out’ moment.

  7. many bells down*

    My spouse’s boss said in a 100-person team meeting that if you’re arrested at a protest he will personally come bail you out, and mine *organizes* protests, so it’s definitely not a problem everywhere.

    1. Kimmybear*

      I was once an emergency contact for someone with their employer under the heading of “who should we call if you get arrested”. So yeah…not an issue everywhere.

      1. many bells down*

        We’re on a hiring freeze since we’ve lost all the income from our facility rentals until, possibly, NEXT June.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Your spouse’s boss is AWESOME. Your boss is also AWESOME.

      Even as a lawyer working with confidential stuff I would be “you were arrested during THOSE protests, when can you start?” Okay maybe not that extreme but yeah protests over civil disobedience is not that big of deal. Throwing molotov cocktails is a deal breaker though.

      1. MayLou*

        I was once helping my spouse hire someone in a personal capacity (not for her job) and we interviewed an applicant together who asked us whether we’d be doing a police check. I asked whether anything would show up if we did, and she said that she’d been arrested… for “harrassing” an illegal puppy mill by writing letters and standing outside with a poster protesting against animal cruelty. We hired her.

      2. old curmudgeon*

        But how about throwing Mazel Tov cocktails?

        A certain news organization claimed that Mazel Tov cocktails were being hurled during a protest this past weekend, so I just wondered.

        1. blackcat*

          So I’ve seen that and it looks like a closed-captioning error.

          That said, a screenshot with the commentary “L’chaim motherfuckers” was pretty solid.

          1. Amy Sly*

            I’m trying to imagine what kind of closed captioning person or bot would know “Mazel Tov” and not “Molotov.”

            Granted, I’ve been listening to a lengthy audio book series, and the mispronunciations the professional readers make are weird. e.g. “Goshawk” is supposed to be “Gauze-hawk,” not the “Go-shock” that he said.

    3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      My org is not that strong, but two of our board members fought in national liberation movements, including one running around with a machine gun a bit I think to overcome apartheid (though she was mainly a leader/organizer and not a soldier).

      So I don’t think people would face bad consequences from the organization if arrested at a protest for BLM.

  8. Heidi*

    I think the main takeaway from Letter 1 is that the CEO is not going to come up with a reasonable plan for re-opening. Is there anyone in higher management who isn’t ineffective and deranged? Maybe that person can be put in charge of a re-opening task force. This group would talk to individual managers about who can stay working at home, how many people can reasonably be distanced in the office, etc. They would also investigate obtaining PPE and supplies for the on-site team. Then they could present the unified plan to the CEO. In other words, make it very easy for the CEO to just approve this plan since the work has already been done.

    1. Lora*

      Yes – or failing, that, they could recommend a consultant group be brought in to develop a plan. It should be easy enough to say, “since none of us are occupational health experts, let’s just hire McViruses Consulting Group or Corona-centure and do whatever they come up with for us” and be done. You’ll get some generic “people who can work from home keep working from home, people only come in on split shifts, space desks far apart, extra cleaning crew, change the filters in the HVAC system frequently” advice but it will be better than the nonsense your CEO is saying. Plus, if the CEO starts babbling nonsense at the consultants, they are very good at putting on their best poker face and saying, “that’s interesting but our guidance is actually…”

      1. juliebulie*

        McViruses/Corona-centure… giggle… I see what you did there.

        I agree this CEO is in way over her head here, and not qualified to make or speak of any plans for re-opening.

        OP said no one in leadership positions saw anything wrong with her comments. I find that hard to believe; more likely they were afraid to speak up. Maybe one or more of them will grow a spine quickly enough to haul this CEO back down to earth.

    2. Killing Trees and Shoving Them in File Cabinets**

      Yes!

      Also, again, there is so much free stuff on the internet right now from legal consultancy groups, the CDC webpage, industry professional associations, etc. You do not have to hire a consultant. A couple of bright people could throw something reasonable together over a few days.

      Certainly more reasonable than anything this particular CEO is likely to come up with. (Also, is it possible that her own fears about the virus are creating a decision paralysis and making her various weaknesses even worse? A plan presented to and supported by her HR and/or leadership team that should could just roll with might actually help HER be more human again too.)

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Ah, but if the company pays money to the consultant to come up with a formal “plan”, it is more likely to be followed, because outside consultants are always “the experts” (even if they’re wrong.) There is a psychology of hiring outside experts, IMO.

  9. hbc*

    For background checks, I don’t know if it’s mandated by our state, but we always ask people to disclose what will be on their record before we have it run. Then when the check comes back, they have a formal chance to explain or contest anything on it, and we may even have a conversation helping us understand the context of anything we find troubling.

    Frankly, I think it should be illegal to ask about arrests anyway, given that the police don’t need probable cause to do it. I would ignore it, and even if there was some sort of conviction related to the protests, I’d basically be looking for something to put in the personnel file to show I did due diligence.

    1. many bells down*

      Yeah Seattle PD is tracking down people who were at the protests and arresting them on random charges DAYS LATER. The guy who took the photo of the little girl being maced was arrested on a charge of pointing a laser pointer at a helicopter. Three or 4 days later. Bail denied.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        One of our local organizers was arrested a week after the initial protests on Fri/Sat last week. Police came to his home at 2am for a completely unrelated charge (un-returned rental car) that happened months ago.

        It was about 12 hours after he announced he’d be suing the city for the police’s response to the protests.

        Gee. Hmm… At least he’s had a lawyer since he started working on police reform a couple of years ago and was able to get out quickly.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        It’s so obvious from their response that the police are whiny spoiled bullies who want to do everything they possibly can to get revenge on people who criticize them.

    2. Mid*

      Ehhh, background checks have a legitimate place in some fields. But, I don’t think there should be blanket policies and discretion should be allowed.

      For example, my friend got a toll charge in a state she didn’t live in. She moved shortly after visiting the toll state, so she never got a notification. Four years later, she finds out that there is a warrant for her arrest in the toll state because the fee + fines + non-payment + missing a court date she never knew about all spiraled out of control. It was easily remedied once she found out about the issue, but had she visited toll state before, she could have been arrested.

      On the other hand, if you have been arrested for DV and you want to work in a DV shelter, that’s a very important thing to know. Or if you want to work in finance, but you have an arrest record for petty theft. There could be reasonable explanations for both (e.g. your abuser called the police on you so you got arrested instead of them, you were 17 and dumb and stole some gum) so a blanket No Arrests Ever isn’t helpful and could end up with a disparate impact on populations who are over-policed and have less resources to navigate the legal system.

      1. Emmie*

        You make good points about job related offenses and convictions. I’d also suggest OP consider any licensing implications. If OP holds a state or agency license for finance, teaching, law, or the like then specific arrests or convictions may impact licensing, or create a disciplinary proceeding. I hope that those agencies consider our current political climate, and see the arrests through John Lewis’ good trouble lens.

        1. Adultiest Adult*

          This is a good point, and the point I have been making to the (licensed) people in my field considering attending protests. Our licensure board asks about both arrests and convictions, and can also move to immediately suspend your license, once notified, while they investigate the charges. Our professional liability insurance does the same. I would hope that eventually things will work themselves out, with regards to protest-related arrests, but some people may not be able to risk their paycheck and their profession to find out.

  10. The Green Lawintern*

    Our department head asked us to give a heads up if we were going to a clean-up event – not even a protest, but a clean-up. While I don’t think participating in a protest would result in any disciplinary action, I can’t say that I haven’t taken this request into account whenever I see a facebook invite for a protest come up, along with all the other factors like coronavirus and just general safety. I still haven’t gone to one yet.

    1. juliebulie*

      A heads-up for a cleaning event? WTF? Is he trying to TRICK you into going? Because a person of my particular psychology would suddenly be filled with a burning desire to take part in the clean-up event (without giving a heads-up, of course).

      1. The Green Lawintern*

        No, nothing nefarious – we’re in public sector, and we’re semi-public facing to boot, so he wanted to know just in case something ended up erupting, so he could give context if it went to a higher up. That being said, the fact that it could even potentially be an issue was worrying.

  11. Fishsticks*

    My job told us in a company meeting that they expect our first call to be to them if anyone got arrested so they could help (this is for a law firm). My partner on the another hand can lose his career if he gets arrested because he works in a healthcare field. At the very least if he’s arrested but not convicted he has to go on unpaid leave during the internal investigation.

    Also I worked at a background company for a bit. Most of the time 3rd party investigators can only report the case if it resulted in a conviction and I know in certain cities they decided not to prosecute protesters.

  12. Ryan Howard's White Suit*

    I feel like this pandemic has really brought to light all sorts of problematic leadership styles. Prior to this, I could point to decisions my partner’s boss had made that I disagree with, but nothing that jeopardized anyone’s health/life. But like LW1, there’s a reopening happening but no care really given to *how* it should happen. My partner is a clergy person and attending church in any kind of normal way is considering extremely risky. But, we’re in the South, other churches are opening, and my partner’s boss is chomping at the bit to resume life as normal. What makes it worse is that their office has already been hit hard by COVID-19. In all, 4 employees (including boss) got it before our state even had testing capabilities; one died, one has been in and out of the hospital first on a ventilator and now for complications from the ventilator, and the other two, including boss, recovered without complications. Now all pretenses of social distancing have been dropped, no masks are required (my partner does wear one, but there’s only one other employee who does, too), and there appears to be a willful ignorance to our city’s number of new cases (climbing!) because it would get in the way of doing what some want. It is…not a great situation. There is some oversight, but that appears to be weakening, as well, as pressure to get back to normal increases. Meanwhile, I have an MPH and every day there are new revelations that spin me into new levels of rage and disbelief.

    All this is to say, LW1, I’m so sorry and hope that someone in your company is able to be the voice of reason before your boss starts asking for weight checks or DNA swabs. Good luck to you.

    1. Frank Doyle*

      Wow. If having a death and hospitalizations in the office — and getting it themselves — isn’t enough to drive things home, what is? Nothing, right? Literally nothing. I truly do not understand people.

  13. Jdc*

    Ah good now we are saying it’ll be ok to destroy properly because your lawyer may be able to get it lowered. Thanks for this info, I’ll gladly consider not hiring someone based on that charge now since it likely could’ve been much more.

    Was nearly done with this site but that solidified it. Truly absurd.

        1. Quill*

          Time to clean the comments section with a nice lysol wipe. It removes 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and racists.

      1. Rioting And looting are bad, objectively*

        Removed. We’re not having that debate here, not while so many people are far more interested in criticizing how people are protesting than they are in protecting black people against police violence. – Alison

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s a real mis-reading of what I wrote (and your takeaway likely violates the law in your state), but yeah, if you have a problem with the protesters, definitely move on to another site.

      – Proud possessor of several disorderly conduct convictions for civil disobedience

      (and maybe read up on the Boston Tea Party)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        >> Proud possessor of several disorderly conduct convictions for civil disobedience<<

        I didn’t think it was possible to adore you more till I read this. Serious big respect for anyone who has stood up for what is right, even if it means arrest.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I love it. While I’ve never been arrested at a protest, I’ve been to a few.

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      Could you take your flouncing and bounce out of here? ‘kay, thaaaanks, good bye, have as good of a life as you wish other people to have.

    3. Alton*

      Not only is that a deliberately inflammatory way of reading what Alison said, you realize this is true of almost any charge, right? People plead down to lesser charges all the time, and I’d be a lot less concerned about something like this than someone pleading down from rape to a lesser assault charge or something like that.

      But seriously, what people are being charged with in relation to the protests aren’t always accurate or unbiased. “Resisting arrest” charges are often very spurious, for example.

    4. Gazebo Slayer*

      It’s hilarious when assholes announce they’re LEAVING, BYE as if people are going to be upset about it.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        ‘This is not an airport, you don’t need to announce departure’

        (I wish I knew where I first read that)

    5. virago*

      Oh, I know you!

      You’re the one person who believed the Buffalo PD when they said that the 75-year-old protester who’s going to be hospitalized for weeks with a concussion was “injured when he tripped & fell.”

      Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’d say that their ‘concern’ that people might be gaining weight at home kind of negates any real chance of them being taken seriously. I mean yes, we’ve been stuck at home, food has been limited, people we care about are dying, but goddess forfend we put on a few pounds because that’s risky!

      (I’m sooo done with this year. What a trash fire)

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Seriously.

        Yes, some people stress eat. Other people forget to eat from stress. *shrug* It has nothing to do with work, IMO.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      Gyms were closed and food was limited. Stress was also high. What do they expect people to do? In some places, you couldn’t walk outside. Not to mention, there have been reports in the news of younger people coughing and sneezing on fresh, unpackaged produce. So that kind of limits what you can buy for healthy food as well, if it hasn’t already been panic-bought.

  14. Ms Fieryworth*

    Between this and the last letter, it’s officially WTF Tuesday.

    OP#1- RUN.

    OP#2- In doing a criminal check the HR people will see the basics of what you were charged with, if you were charged.

    1. Ms Fieryworth*

      Hit the post button by accident!

      Anyway, OP#2- they will see the basics of what you were charged with. Depending on your location, they may be required to give you the opportunity to dispute. I’d think that any place that declined to employ you on the basis of a protest is not an employer you’d want to work for, but you also said you work with kids, and that comes with other standards. Smartest bet is to do everything you can to avoid being arrested and try to get any charges dismissed/erased, if it happens.

  15. Working Hypothesis*

    Alison, I just wanted to say that this answer is pretty much ideally representative of why I adore your column and introduce it to everyone I know who doesn’t already read it. (A vanishingly small number by now!) You’re clearly writing from a manager’s perspective; you call your column “Ask a Manager,” and you openly and directly advise workers to unionize!! I get that you don’t see the two positions as being inherently in conflict — if management is being decent and labor is being reasonable, they can collaborate on mutually acceptable solutions — but it’s still an incredible breath of fresh air to see a manager who is comfortable with organized labor and willing to encourage it.

    May I clone you, please? We really need lots more of you, scattered liberally throughout the managerial divisions of corporations everywhere.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is so kind, and I feel like I have an ethical obligation to be up-front and acknowledge that I’m not always comfortable with unions. They sometimes do things I don’t support (like making it harder to fire someone who clearly needs to be fired, has been warned, treated fairly, etc.). I’m uneasy about them in many cases.

      But sometimes they make a ton of sense. I am all for workers organizing informally (I recommend it here all the time), and when employers behave as this one is, sometimes doing it more formally — i.e., unionizing — really is the only logical response.

      1. Can Man*

        I agree. I’d rather live in a world with unions than without unions, but they certainly have their share of abuses, like any other group. (Case in point: many police unions in situations like the ones being protested.)

  16. Frank Doyle*

    I feel like the word “plans” should be in quotes in subject of this letter, because clearly this CEO has no plan, she opened her mouth and words fell out.

  17. RussianInTexas*

    In the state I live in, there are no rules about on how, if, and when, a potential employee may ask about an arrest and conviction records. The only limitation is for the jobs that pay below $75k/year and not “sensitive”, the limitation for the search is 7 years.
    I applied to many jobs with an application. They asked about arrests and convictions. If an employer does not want to hire anyone with such, they can just filter out anyone who answered “yes” and you will never ever know.

  18. Poodles*

    I’m seriously wondering if you are part of my company….although it would be a different person than CEO (but still very high up) for us.

    I’ve started tuning out as soon as talk moves away from concrete plans or action items. You’re on a conference call, they can’t see what you’re doing- maybe read the news or do some work at the same time, and only really listen in for the important bits?

    It might also be worth mentioning your feelings to your manage. Just point out that the weight comments could make people uncomfortable, and the meetings seem to cause lots of anxiety. Hopefully she’s take action, but if not what you’ve said is general enough it shouldn’t cause you any problems?

  19. Snarkastic*

    Well, if that’s the case, I’d tell her I gained 150 pounds, aged thirty-five years, and have since switched ethnicities. See ya when I see ya, boss!

  20. Crabapple*

    I scrolled through the comments, and saw mostly positive comments for OP #2, which is great!

    But as an administrator and teacher in early childhood education, the “I work with kids” part is crucial. In most states — if not all states — you must pass a comprehensive criminal background check run by the state to work at a licensed childcare facility. Like, the early learning branch of the state runs the check, which in my state includes fingerprinting. If you don’t pass the check, it’s a no-go situation. It doesn’t matter what you say in an interview or what we ask. I could not hire you in my facility, period. We could and would lose our own license to operate if it was found you had failed the check and we’d hired you anyway. I’m not certain this type of arrest would cause you to fail a check in your state (or even mine), but it very well might.

    Now, when I worked in licensing exempt situations (my state number of operating hours usually applies to exempt status), and ran a background check from a private source I had a potential employee come up with a major traffic ticket in another state like ten years prior. Did I worry about that? No.

    But I would dig a little deeper into the requirements to pass a background check in your state OP. I am passionate about the cause as well but it didn’t look like anyone in the industry had responded, and as someone who is in the field, I’d be cautious and do your homework in your state as to what would bar you from passing the state licensing check.

  21. LGC*

    I’ll just say it: the CEO in letter 1 sounds like she’s five miles high off her own wokeness.

    She’s…not wrong in that all three criteria are associated with worse outcomes for COVID-19 (that is, older people, heavier people, and BIPOC all statistically have higher risk from COVID). But 1) that’s population-level risk and 2) more importantly, that’s patronizing and of dubious legality. You might be able to get her to back off the ledge just by pointing out that the more woke option would be to not assume that the people at highest risk are the old, the fat, and the black just because that’s what she saw on CNN.

    1. JustaTech*

      Right, the CEO is just picking things that are easy to see. Would she also ask people like my coworker, who is immune compromised, to come back? You can’t *see* immune compromise, and there are so many different forms.

      And thank you for noting “population-level”. That’s one of the hardest things to communicate in public health, that population-level ways of measuring risk are not appropriate to individuals and that even if someone fits into a high-risk category that individual might have other mitigating factors.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I was thinking the same thing, but couldn’t think of how to phrase it without naming the unnamable.

  22. Hipponymous*

    Wow, I was thrown by Alison’s statement that “In theory, you can be fired for even just being at a protest.” I voluntarily told my workplace that I’d attended a protest so that I could self-isolate and telework for 14 days afterward!

    I made the decision to disclose based on my workplace culture, but I also believed it was protected activity. I work in the public sector and we are more likely to have political protections written into law or our employee handbooks. However I’ve just reread my employee handbook and the definition of “political activity” is pretty vague.

    To their credit, HR didn’t bat an eye and let me telework. Still, I’m grateful for the correction, and relieved that I didn’t get into hot water. (Not that they can really fire me, we’re under a hiring freeze…)

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      In theory, you could be fired for not smiling enough at your boss. Yay at-will employment. :-/

      1. Lauren*

        This is a legit concern for women whose performance reviews are littered with garbage BS like this.

  23. Amethystmoon*

    This sounds awful. As someone with hypothyroid, I would quit a job like that. But probably there would have already been internal signs that they discriminated before then.

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