what to do if your company is making you return to your office before it feels safe

A reader writes:

I work for a 500-person company that has had all but 10 employees working from home since mid-March. They have decided for reasons they have not shared that the office has to reopen this week. Employees will go in one week and work from home three weeks so that only 25% of the work force will be in at one time.

Technically, we’re an essential business and they are legally okay to do this, but everything can be done remotely and it’s contrary to the local recommendations. Many of the workers will be forced to take public transportation. Other similar companies in the area have committed to letting their people telecommute at least until September and probably until 2021.

We have all made our concerns known, but somebody has a bee in their bonnet about letting people work from home. With 50 million unemployment claims, the company isn’t concerned about losing their workforce ( they are probably hoping older workers will quit). But they are very sensitve to negative publicty.

It’s very upsetting to everyone for the obvious health reasons but also because the people we’ve worked for for many years can’t even be bothered to give us a reason for why they are willing to risk our lives.

My mail is full of letters like this. There aren’t good answers.

If you are high-risk, you have some protection under the law; I have advice here on what to do. If you live with someone high-risk, the law doesn’t give you the same protections, but you can try the advice here.

If you’re unable to work because you need to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed for reasons related to COVID-19, or if you need to care for someone subject to quarantine, you’re eligible for some expanded family and medical leave benefits (but only at companies smaller than 500 employees).

If you’re not in those categories … you can try pushing back with a group of coworkers because there is power in numbers. Make a stink. Ask your employer to explain why they’re defying the local recommendations. Point out that your competitors aren’t. Ask them about how they’re planning for people who must take public transportation. Ask how they’re complying with every CDC recommendation listed here. Think about how you can generate some bad PR for them without risking your jobs.

And seriously consider unionizing. When your company is not prioritizing your health and safety, when it will not even explain such a major decision to you, unionizing might be your only remaining option.

I’m sorry there aren’t better, easier answers. So many people are in this situation right now and are being forced to choose between staying employed or protecting their health. It’s not right.

{ 218 comments… read them below }

  1. anon today*

    I think everyone is dealing with this now. I’m in Texas. We’ve gone completely back to normal except for more sanitizer around. My boss is going to his kid’s out of state baseball tournaments every weekend, and a coworker spent all weekend in San Antonio this past weekend. I literally have no idea how to avoid COVID-19 besides being a recluse and losing my job. It’s beyond frustrating. It’s like people think the damn virus had an expiration date. And here, you get made fun of for wearing a mask. It’s unreal.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I’m sorry you’re dealing with this – it’s truly awful and people are truly selfish.

    2. Sharkie*

      Yeah, I am in Minnesota and if you are in the cities its fine to wear a mask but if you go to the outer areas you get called a sheep. I honestly don’t get this.

      1. MommyMD*

        Be a sheep. These name callers are uneducated and think that a virus is somehow political. Insane. I’ve sprayed my hair with Lysol at work after I’ve seen like four COVID in a row. And I suit up like The Mandalorian. Their politics won’t protect them.

          1. Robin Sparkles*

            Sorry had to laugh at this! Also agree completely with Mommy MD- Be a sheep. These people are playing with their and others’ lives. Unfortunately until they see people close to them get affected and badly…I do not see that changing. I am sorry you have to deal with this.

          2. JSPA*

            Don’t actually spray yourself with lysol, though. That’s toxic.

            “Sheep are people too” or similar non-sequitur sometimes works, if you have to be pleasant.
            Other times, selective deafness is fine.
            “Yeah, too bad I have to” or “Wish I didn’t have to” or “It’s for my parents” or “It’s for my child” deals with all but the most hard-core. (It’s OK to make up family as needed.)

            “When I called my pal Dave in Brooklyn last month, I heard sirens in the background the whole time. He said they hadn’t stopped, day or night, for weeks” works, if you want to push a little sense. (That one probably does require an actual pal in a hard-hit area.)

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              JSPA, I believe she’s said she really is a doctor like her username suggests, so I’m pretty sure she made an educated decision if it isn’t a typo for chair.

              1. Alisu*

                To my knowledge hair, apart from immediate scalp, is as invested with your circulation as your purse. So cleaning it with whatever doesn’t damage the hair itself, even if it wasn’t healthy to have on skin or ingest, is fine as long as you don’t have a habit of nibbling on the hair.

            2. Meg Ster*

              Yeah, Lysol’s active ingredient is benzalkonium chloride. It’s not particularly harmful in this particular use case (e.g., but it’s nasty to fish). Is it hairspray? No, of course not, but also….you do what you need to do in crappy situations, namely being an MD, seeing covid patients, and not having better available options.

          1. Sharkie*

            I told them I might be a sheep, but you’re another barnyard animal and it’s not lady like to call you that…

        1. JustaTech*

          There are more sheep than people in New Zealand.

          New Zealand doesn’t have COVID any more.

          I’d be delighted to be a sheep.

      2. Stella70*

        I agree with you. I’m in St. Paul – minutes from the Wisconsin border. You drive across the border and there isn’t a single mask on anyone, anywhere. They don’t mock you for wearing a mask, but it just isn’t done in the WI cities I’ve been to (granted, smaller towns).

        1. Captain Raymond Holt*

          We’re doing okay in Madison (okay, not great), but I don’t want to know what it looks like outside of this area.

          1. Quill*

            Not sure what I’m going home to next week but it’s not like Utah has been stellar in terms of precautions either.

          2. Kelly*

            Another Madison resident here. I have family that live an hour north of Madison, including my dad. The only time we saw most people wearing masks last weekend was at Menard’s in Baraboo, only because it’s required for the time being there. At the grocery store, about a third of the customers had some face coverings on, but no employees. The same store also did not have plexiglass barriers put up at the registers and the self checkouts were not being regularly wiped down, which seems to be standard practice in the Madison area.

            I usually do as much of the shopping for the weekend in Madison because I know my way around the stores and because of the COVID safety precautions being taken by retailers. My dad’s also vegetarian, and his imitation meat products and alternative dairy choices are easier to find as well.

            It was really telling that as soon as the WI Supreme Court ruled that the statewide safer at home order was invalid, how quickly most of the state outside of Madison and Milwaukee opened up. I had family that celebrated their “liberation” from safer at home by going to their favorite rural dive bar that evening. I know they could have drank more of their usual Busch Light at home for much cheaper than they paid for the same beer at the bar.

            I went out for a sit down meal for the first time in 3 and a half months last weekend, father’s day breakfast with my dad. I was fine with restaurants doing carryout only because that was my usual habit before the pandemic shut everything down. I did get my exercise in with walking to the liquor store instead of driving. I got a lot less exercise working from home, so that was one way to get more.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        I answer back, “Better a live sheep than a dead lion” (play on Ecclesiastes 9:4, “Anyone who is among the living has hope — even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!”).

        Or I just ‘baaaa’ and move on. Though once in a while, if there’s an audience, I’ll say, “I love my parents, and want them alive.”

      4. noahwynn*

        I live in Minneapolis and am used to wearing a fac covering basically everywhere when in public indoors. Went to visit my family in St. Louis this weekend for the first time since Christmas and it was a totally different world there. There are the usual signs up everywhere telling people that masks are “highly recommended” and to maintain social distancing but no one was doing it. It was weird to go from a place where most people are generally following along to somewhere they are basically ignoring it all.

        I wasn’t mocked for it, but on the drive down through Iowa I got some strange looks when I stopped in a gas station in the middle of no where and wore a mask inside. Made me self concious about it a bit.

      5. Jiya*

        Not gonna lie, my immediate reaction to being called a sheep would be to baaa in the loudest and most belligerent manner possible. But I have a whole lot of pent-up anger about this kind of thing, so.

        I’m sorry you have to deal with this – stay strong, and I hope you stay healthy too.

    3. Lynn*

      Also in Texas. The only remotely silver lining is that the case count is getting so high that Abbott is finally considering doing something. Wishing you health and safety!

      1. anon today*

        Well, my boss at my job is also a 5 term Republican State Rep, and he said today there is no chance Abbott will shut down the state again. I hope he is wrong, but he has been on hours-long conference calls with the Governor and other officials every day for weeks. So far, he’s been spot on in what he’s told us to expect.

        1. Kimberly*

          But he is keeping the Governor’s Mansion closed down because it isn’t safe to do tours right now. TEA hasn’t paid the schools for the weeks of distance learning. They keep swearing we will have normal school because you can’t disrupt the football (bow down to Texas God) season. I swear him, Patrick , and Paxton (under inditement for fraud since 2015) make Governors Pa and Ma Ferguson look ethical.

          1. Don't Mess With Texas*

            There is, of course, some middle ground between “everything must be in lockdown” and “all museums and cultural sites open for tours, business as usual.”

            1. D'Arcy*

              Middle ground exists, but we *shouldn’t be* in middle ground for months to come. The whole country *should* be in total lockdown right now, and the fact that it isn’t is such an epic failure of leadership at every level.

          2. Aggretsuko*

            Wait, what, Mr. “Let’s Open Everything” won’t open his own house to the public?!? HMMMMMMMMMMM.

      2. Black Horse Dancing*

        I live in a border state of Texas. Tourists flock here. It’s a PITA for a lot of reasons. Stuck between AZ and TX, two heavily diseased states.

        1. RR*

          Hello fellow New Mexican! As they say, poor New Mexico, so far from heaven, so close to Texas

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            LOL! Hi! I’m in the T or C area–we get tons from El Paso TX visiting us. :)

    4. MissDisplaced*

      Making fun of people who wear masks is really disgusting. Would you want your doctor or dentist to not wear a mask during a medical procedure? Masks are about protecting others and it’s so selfish and a denial of science.

      It was one thing at the very beginning in March where some people weren’t wearing masks because it was really difficult to get any masks. But this is not the case now.

        1. A*

          Yup. Honestly, I’m having a bit of a hard time not noticing the correlation between the locations these attitudes still seem prevalent in (with corresponding increasing cases) & some of the existing stereotypes surrounding education and intelligence (or rather, existence of ignorance more so).

          For some reason I feel like I’m not supposed to mention it because those stereotypes are usually rude and blanket assumptions etc…..but… but… it’s just so glaringly REAL now!

          The only silver lining I have is that my Texan Uncle has finally, finally decided that he no longer supports the Cheeto in Chief. It’s a disturbing silver lining, but it’s there.

          1. anon today*

            In my part of Texas, apparently mask-wearing takes away your liberty and freedoms. Who knew?

    5. Third or Nothing!*

      Also a Texan. Thankfully my company is letting me work from home while I care for my toddler since she and I both are high risk, but my husband is back in his plant (he’s an aerospace welder). Everyone has to wear a mask while inside the plant, and he has his own private weld booth, so we’re not quite as worried as we would be if it were a similar setup to my office. What worries me more is everyone else who are acting like the worst is over and only prolonging our misery. Darn it people, I need to leave my house without fearing for my life!

    6. Database Developer Dude*

      Made fun of for wearing a mask? Are they five? My middle fingers would be getting a lot of use in that kind of an environment.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Had someone rip the piss out of me a few weeks ago here in the UK for wearing a mask. Guy reckoned that the more ‘scaredy-cats’ like me there are, the longer we’ll have a broke economy.

        Wish I could say I had a witty comeback, but at the time I just gave him both middle fingers.

        1. Robin Sparkles*

          I think the middle fingers sound like his kind of language. A witty comeback would have likely gone right over his head.

        2. perstreperous*

          You can’t spend, spend, spend if you’re dead …
          A nice one I saw somewhere was “the only thing cool about lying in a coffin is your body temperature”!

        3. Aggretsuko*

          “When I’m alive and you’re dead because you went out and socialized and partied….”

        4. chi type*

          “Oh I’m wearing it because I tested positive but…” then start to remove it while coughing wildly. See how confident they are in their anti-science propaganda deep down.

          1. pancakes*

            Please don’t. Two people making giant arses of themselves isn’t an improvement on one person making an arse of themself.

      2. Tidewater 4-1009*

        It’s a problem in my Chicago neighborhood too. Many people don’t wear masks when they’re passing others on 5′ wide sidewalks.
        I posted on the neighborhood group and got 130 responses, all agreeing that people should wear masks… and a few jerks saying they would not wear a mask outside and didn’t care.
        Most days close to 50% are not wearing masks. I walk in the street to avoid them. I especially love the ones who pull their masks down to their chin and walk along smoking a cigarette. *eyeroll* I’m allergic to cigarettes.

        1. Another Professor*

          We must be in different neighborhoods. I was actually going to say how grateful I am to be in Chicago because everyone around me seems to be wearing a mask, and the stores I go into are enforcing it pretty stringently. I assumed it was one of the reasons we have the largest decline in cases.

        2. Tris Prior*

          Hi, neighbor! (I assume, since I’m having the same issue in my north side neighborhood.)

          I wear my mask, always, when walking. I don’t want to get on the CTA so I walk EVERYWHERE now (no car), and much of my walking is on the grass or in the street. The thing is, I feel like mask usage was pretty good until maybe a week ago at which point there must have been a collective memo that I missed, that we weren’t doing this any more??

          The people wearing masks dangling around their chins, or with their noses hanging out, or my personal favorite of *removing the mask to have a huge coughing fit and then putting it back on* are driving me absolutely insane.

          That being said, I feel like compliance inside stores is pretty good. I was in Aldi the other day for the first time and everyone was masked.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            In the stores is pretty good, except I heard Mariano’s isn’t enforcing masks. I haven’t been there since before covid.
            I’ve been on CTA and it varies. Usually at least 50% are wearing masks, and some days all but one person.
            I’m not holding back on the dirty looks to people not wearing masks. Maybe it will make a difference.

            1. ...*

              Im not going on CTA currently. I don’t wear a mask when im walking my dog honestly. I maybe pass one person and will step into the street or cross the road. I wear it 100% when indoors or doing any kind of outdoor pick up or counter service. I also where it when walking anywhere ill be indoors. But alone walking my dog in a neighborhood I dont.

              1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                Are you passing people on the sidewalk at less than 6′? If so you should wear a mask.
                I had to move into the street yesterday to avoid a dog walker without a mask. Sigh.

                1. ...*

                  Honestly no not really, the sidewalks in my neighborhood are wide and if my dog won’t move I just pick him up and go around people from a distance. Although just for your own peace of mind please know that passing someone on the sidewalk for a brief moment at 4 feet is not a high risk activity. You do also realize that the virus doesn’t know how long 6 feet is. It’s not a magic number where virtual particles do an about face and can’t touch you.

                2. JustaTech*

                  I went out for my early morning run today and realized about 6 blocks in that I’d forgotten my mask. We’re not required to wear a mask while exercising, but wow did I feel naked. The good thing about going out super early is that the sidewalks and trails are pretty deserted, and there’s not much traffic so I can safely hop into the street. And as the forgetter I felt very obligated to be the one moving farther away.

                  (But I am going to start reporting the places where people’s hedges have taken over the sidewalk so that there’s no safe place to pass, let alone with 6 feet.)

                3. Tidewater 4-1009*

                  @…, I wondered about the six feet thing. I assume it’s because the virus particles are heavy and can’t float any farther/longer than that. But of course the wind and such will cause some variation. Another reason to wear a mask and protect others!
                  @JustATech, thank you! :)

          2. Aggretsuko*

            And this kind of thing is why I can’t just take a stroll outside and feel cool about it any more.

        3. Chicago native*

          All latest evidence indicates that it’s incredibly difficult to transmit Covid outside, unless you’re standing near someone for a prolonged period of time or talking to them. So I wouldn’t worry about walking by someone without a mask…as long as they wear that mask when they’re indoors and there is a significant risk of spread!

          1. JSPA*

            That’s the problematically oversimplified version. And it’s based largely on places where people DO wear masks.

            Viral exposure is a combination of proximity, time, airflow, mask use, viral load and projection. I’m sure a 1% risk sounds fine if your context is “I only pass 5 people, and the local prevalence is 1 in 10,000.” But if everyone makes that same decision, the prevalence will rise, even if INDIVIDUALLY the risk is pretty low for any one person, at this particular moment.

        4. Reliquary*

          My far north side neighborhood seems to be pretty good about masks – at least as far as I can tell from my window, and from my very few trips outdoors.

          But my partner, who has been outside more than I have, tells me there are spots (the Howard Red Line stop, as well as by the lake) where often, more folks seem to be without masks than with!

    7. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      Yeah, the situation in TX is pretty f’d up right now and likely to get worse. My new job (started in March right before shelter in place) had us come back into the office June 1st and masks are company policy. But just because they’re wearing them, doesn’t mean they’re wearing them correctly. The amount of people who only wear their mask over their mouth and not their nose is insane. Or the people who wear the masks inside out (Blue side out, people!) or even just keep using the same mask without washing! People are stupid, there’s no getting around that, and the only way to avoid them is to stay home.

      1. Nope Nope Nope*

        I’ll admit I don’t wash mine that often, but I was able to buy a 5-pack from Old Navy so I could wear a different one every day. Instead of half-a** washing them at the end of each day, I’m giving them all a more thorough wash once they’ve all been worn. It’s been so much better now that more masks were available.

        1. The Original K.*

          I have enough cloth masks that I can wear a different one every day. I put each one in the laundry at the end of each wearing, and then wash them all with my regular laundry on the weekend.

          1. Archie Goodwin*

            Same. My mother has made homemade masks, and when I knew I was coming back into the office (beginning this week) I asked if she could make sure I had enough to cycle through one every day, plus some extra. I throw them into the wash every week, too.

            As for where the cloth comes from – I’ve worn out a lot of dress shirts in my day, and they’re useless for rags. :-)

          2. blackcat*

            Yeah, we’ve got a whole fleet. My husband is in the office 2-3 days a week (I’m WFH for now), and he uses 2 for a full day. I think we’ve got 10 of our superior masks? Then another dozen or so (half dozen for each of us) of ear loop more basic ones. Then another dozen for the toddler (who chews on them). We do one wash of them a week.

          3. Another Professor*

            Yep. I bought a bunch so that I can throw one in the wash each time I come home and cycle them through with my weekly laundry.

          4. Beth Jacobs*

            Yup. I wash most of my clothes in cold water, but the masks go in with towels and sheets at 90 C. Air dry, iron and they’re nicely soft and comfy.

        2. Raea*

          Agreed. I don’t have access to a washing machine, and was getting nervous about all the articles I was seeing about how hand washing wasn’t good enough. So I commissioned 8 extra masks so I can swap them out enough to let them hang out in a brown paper bag after use / prior to washing.

          Ok, so eight masks wasn’t necessary…. but I figured this isn’t going away anytime soon, so I might as well have fashion options?

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I do something similar, using the dashboard of my car for extra UV light. (I’m lucky enough to be in a single family house so there are no elevator encounters.) One sneeze in it, or maskless cougher comes too close, I wash it.

      2. Maeve*

        My parnter and I have 14 total of varying quality. She uses the good ones when she rides the bus to work (she works in health care). We usually wear worse quality but more comfortable ones on walks outside. We do laundry twice a week so we always have a good supply.

        1. Oxford Comma*

          I have about 14 too. Like yours, the quality varies. The not so great ones I use when I’m just walking around my residential neighborhood at non-peak times. The good ones I wear for things like doctors visits or necessary shopping.

    8. Sled dog mama*

      I’m so tired of the mask/no mask thing. We have businesses around here that have declared themselves mask free zones, ok I refuse to shop there. There are also some who have signs up saying things like “we respect your rights, no mask needed here” the problem is that if they actually respected my rights they would also respect my right to wear the mask but I always get side eye at those places. I frequently wish they would post signs that actually say what they mean, something like “we respect your rights as long as you agree with our opinions”

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          And yet, try to make your business a gun-free zone and boy howdie do they holler…

        2. Sled dog mama*

          That is the way it’s coming across here, and I have yet to see a place with that sign that had employees wearing masks.

      1. anon for this*

        Ugh, I live near a place where religious symbols get treated like this. As in, you have the right to choose whether to wear symbols typically associated with religions, sure – but if you do, you’ll be treated as if you made the wrong choice.

      2. Captain Raymond Holt*

        There’s a campground in Wisconsin that banned them and said that wearing them would be treated as an attempted robbery in progress. This campground was also hosting pistol shooting events, so definitely not the place you’d want to show up in a mask.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            People exposing themselves to contagion are also putting medical and service workers at risk, to say nothing of children and other family members who don’t have the option to stay away from them. It’s not just their own lives these people are playing with.

            1. Your Weird Uncle*

              I work with people who are like this. I swear, people think that if you can’t see it, it must not exist.

            2. Tidewater 4-1009*

              Yes, but there’s only so much we can do about idiots. Ideally we would take the children away from them and protect them and raise them right, but that would be illegal…

              1. pancakes*

                That’s not an argument in favor of pretending that their choices only affect themselves, though.

                1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                  I’m not pretending! I’m recognizing limitations. If you know of a way to prevent idiots from endangering their family and others, please share!

                2. pancakes*

                  Saying “Darwin will take care of them” is pretending that their choices only affect themselves, and misunderstanding how evolution works as well.

      3. JSPA*

        Your mask protects them; their lack of mask does not protect you. Draw a line, shop elsewhere.

        The attitude that we somehow owe it to people to continue a certain set of consumption patterns–say what? The same people pushing that line are quick to switch to a different store if the soda is on sale. You do not ‘owe’ anyone your business.

    9. Anonytex*

      I am also in Texas, but I have am very lucky: our boss told us he has no plans to reopen the office until there’s a vaccine, and maybe not even then; the C-levels have been discussion going to permanent telework.

      I’m very sorry for all my fellow Texans who are stuck between an insane state government and bosses who can’t understand how vital it is to minimize all contact, not just when it’s convenient. I’m very hopeful the cities that are pushing back on the governor’s idiocy are able to maintain better safeguards than the state seems willing to commit to.

    10. Anon Recent Grad*

      I’m in the NYC metro area, so my area was hit pretty hard, and i still had a coworker tell me not to be scared and to take off my mask. Their reasoning? Because they come in everyday and hadn’t gotten sick.

      WTF?? so because you aren’t one of the 2 million+ people who have gotten sick from this virus it means there is nothing to worry about?

      1. I don’t get it..*

        yet. The co-worker hasn’t gotten sick *yet*. Or infected their family, or passed it on to daycare, or seniors home…

        1. JustaTech*

          Humans are generally bad a probability. That’s why the lotto is still a thing.
          (I say this as someone who’s never really *gotten* the probability side of Probability and Statistics, and who works with scientists who have done lotto pools when the jackpot has gotten really big. I’m not criticizing so much as observing.)

    11. Artemesia*

      In March my BIL and SIL ended up with really bad but luckily not lethal cases of COVID after their niece traveled to California on a soccer travel team. She infected her brother whom my BIL was tutoring in math and her parents. The nephew infected my BIL and SIL who were sick for weeks and are still struggling although they were in superb shape before they got sick. The kids were barely sick, the adults were all miserably sick for 2 or 3 weeks and have weeks later not recovered their stamina. Bummer that the workplace doesn’t continue WFH where it is possible.

    12. Cyn*

      My response has been: I care about my community and the economy. I don’t want to spread the disease and have us shut down…again. Don’t you care about others and our lives and likelihood?
      Most people stutter a bit and I walk away.

    13. Don't Mess With Texas*

      I am in TX too (Austin admittedly) and have never been ridiculed for wearing a mask. Please stop stereotyping Texas.

      1. A*

        It’s not stereotyping to speak about your own personal experience, and things that have actually happened to you. It’s unfortunate that what many of the commenters are reporting is in line with existing stereotypes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening or that they shouldn’t be able to speak to it.

        This isn’t just a one-off comment speaking to this. It does no one any good to sweep it under the rug, the cases are rising in Texas.

      2. anon & masked in tx*

        I am in TX and have been mocked repeatedly for wearing a mask. It’s not stereotyping to point out the facts.

    14. Summerborn*

      Actually, I’m from Texas, too. San Antonio, to be exact. Just yesterday, a mandate went into effect in our county that says every business must insist that customers wear a mask, or the business can be fined anywhere from $1,000-$5000 depending on the severity of the violation. This makes me so happy! I will gladly be a sheep, I will gladly take dirty looks from those who believe that being required to wear a mask is a violation of their civil liberties. Some people just don’t get it, and never will.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        My best friend just told me Houston is doing the same. She’s pretty relieved, especially since her parents haven’t been taking this seriously.

    15. InsufficientlySubordinate*

      Yeah, given how hospitalizations are climbing here, I imagine that will change. Dallas at least made it mandatory for businesses to require masks inside. Restaurants when you’re not sitting down. Me, I’m not going anywhere as I lucked out with a company that is being very sensible.

    16. tinyhipsterboy*

      I’m in AZ, and we’re getting a lot of the same. Most things are reopened, and while my county requires masks, the punishment is a fine of “not more than $50.” Some cities have more punitive measures–I believe Phoenix (where I am) has made it a misdemeanor to not wear a mask in public, for example–but some cities don’t seem to care at all. Nextdoor and local Facebook groups are filled with users spreading misinformation, insulting anyone who encourages masks (let alone any other mitigation tactics), and/or shouting about personal rights, and I’ve seen quite a few people already refusing to wear masks.

      So many people refuse to believe the pandemic is a reality, and it’s terrifying. I hope OP’s employer starts taking precautions, at the very least.

    17. V8 Fiend*

      Fellow Texan, and it banana crackers! We have record cases – we’re talking hospitals being overwhelmed to the point that children’s hospitals are now taking COVID cases up to age 30. In my area, if you need ICU admittance, there is a good chance that you will transferred to a rural hospital due to lack of beds. And yet, things are going back to normal and places are opening up.

      Although, probably no football since several Cowboys have tested positive!

    18. anon & masked in tx*

      I am in Texas in a hard hit area and have faithfully worn a mask since March. I have been mocked by coworkers, family, and acquaintances for wearing a mask, trying to social distance, staying home whenever I don’t have to go to work, not spending my weekends shopping or at restaurants, etc. I was even teased for buying more than one mask so that I can rotate them and only wear each one once before cleaning it. My boss and other managers in the company have made snarky comments about having to wear masks, and they aren’t really enforcing their own rules. I am so frustrated by how lackadaisical, and even willfully dangerous, so many people are being with this virus.

  2. I Heart JavaScript*

    +1 to the suggestion to start unionizing. Labor organizing and unions are responsible for all the employee protections we have in this country. Sometimes collective bargaining is the only way to level the playing field between employer and employee.

    1. Tarantella*

      If nothing else, contact the local public health department, OSHA, and your Democratic congresscritter.

      Companies care, hard, about all of those.

    2. Marie D*

      my white collar (legal) workplace unionized last summer and while it was a lot of work, it was worth it. What employee would not want a say in the formation of the employee handbook/CBA?!

      For those interested in unionizing – contact some local union halls and see if they would represent your workplace. If not, ask if they have recommendations.

  3. James*

    The best thing you can do is wear masks, wash your hands regularly (as soon as possible after using public transportation, for example), and use hand sanitizer liberally. Maybe wear gloves while on public transportation as well; Home Depot sells light-weight gloves relatively cheap. Make sure you don/doff your mask and gloves (if worn) properly–remember, the germs concentrate on these so assume they are hot. In the office, sanitize your work surface at the start and end of the day (don’t sanitize your laptop using Clorox wipes, because it’ll fry the connections between the keyboard and the motherboard; ask me how I know!). If you can, a UVC light can be used to help sanitize the area; however, these have inherent risks, so it may not be best. Obviously stay 6 feet away from folks, don’t shake hands, etc.

    We’ve been using these methods at our office (a remote job site location) and they’ve so far been effective. There is anecdotal evidence that just wearing a mask can be extremely effective, but extra precautions don’t hurt. These are all things you can do yourself, regardless of how reasonable/irrational the boss is.

    Ideally yes, you’d work from home. And pushing back against re-opening is a good idea in many cases (about half the states in the USA are seeing case numbers rise). But if you can’t push back, or if it fails, it’s good to have a fallback position.

    1. Mama Bear*

      Agreed. Even if they complain about masks, sometimes it just takes a few people to buck the trend and make it less alienating.

      We had no community spread and only one case in the office. I attribute this to precautions taken. There was a deep clean. HR did contact tracing and let everyone who worked closely with that person know to get themselves tested. We all wear masks when near someone else/not in our private offices. High touch areas are cleaned frequently. The landlord implemented one way stairs, limited occupancy on elevators and in bathrooms. One door is Enter. One is Exit. Sanitizer everywhere, and handwashing encouraged. I’d also encourage all meetings to be teleconferences or using Skype/Zoom/Teams.

    2. MommyMD*

      I’m literally dripping in Covid. Such a spike. Despite good PPE I feel like a walking vector. As soon as I get home I strip everything off, throw it into the laundry, sanitize my shoes, and shower. Masks are the only thing that is going to curb this thing. I just don’t understand the resistance. It’s a virus. It’s not political. It doesn’t care. It’s not over. No one knows how this ends.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Yeah, a lot of people seem to think that having to wear a mask in an infringement on their rights. I don’t understand this at all. A mask has got to be more comfortable than a ventilator. I think these people just don’t think they’ll get COVID-19 or at least not badly.

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          I saw a lot of this attitude growing up in a fundamentalist area. Each man thinks he’s king. They spend a lot of time ranting about how things and people should be. No one can tell them anything. They don’t follow rules because they (think they) know better.
          This attitude has been around a long time, but it didn’t usually endanger lives until now.

      2. Windchime*

        It’s not political, but as long as many people view it as a political issue instead of the health issue that it is, there will be refusals to wear a mask and take precautions.

        Also, wearing a mask helps others, not the person wearing the mask. So there is an element of selfishness involved as well; after all, why should Selfish Sally wear a mask if it doesn’t help her?

        It’s kind of a bizarre way of thinking. It makes me glad I live in Washington where this thing is taken seriously.

      3. James*

        Honestly, one of the good things about working in hazardous waste most of my life is that these exact precautions are deeply ingrained into me. Everything you describe is SOP for me and my wife.

    3. JustaTech*

      Please do be careful with UV lights.
      I used to use them in the lab, but we decided that the damage they do to plastics, the risks to human skin and eyes, and that they don’t work well if there is a lot of moving air meant they just weren’t worth the benefit.

      If you do use one, do not shine it in your face, keep your hands above the lamp, and know that it will degrade your plastic objects surprisingly quickly.

      1. James*

        I did not realize the plastics issue. Do you have a reference I can send to folks? Not many people I know use UV light–just one person, as far as I know, and under very strictly controlled conditions (closed rooms, no one is allowed to access until the light goes off, the light is on a timer and has a kill switch outside the room it’s being used in, among other things), but it would be good to have more information on this.

        1. JustaTech*

          I don’t have a good scientific source off the top of my head. Sadly it’s one of those “everybody knows” things in science. Like, *I* know that UV degrades plastics because I’ve watched the clear plastic cover on the scale in my UV-lighted area absolutely disintegrate into nasty sharp shards of yellow plastic, while the one that doesn’t get UV light is still nice and clear and solid.

          UV light also inactivates bleach (which is why it’s sold in solid bottles rather than clear ones).

          When I just searched the web I did get a lot of hits for articles from the plastics industry.

          But it sounds like the system you’re talking about is really quite good, safe and a measured dose, so that’s really the best use. Just don’t be surprised if your plastics seem to age or discolor quickly.

  4. Kelly*

    If your company is highly sensitive about bad media then I agree with the advice to try to generate some bad PR. Send anonymous tips to as many local news agencies as possible along with local facebook groups. If enough people talk about it they may change their stance.

    1. Kiki*

      I think if the LW thinks they could do that anonymously, they should consider it. One complication may be, though that if the LW is in an area where reopening is common-place and underway, it won’t really be newsworthy. In which case, I think unionizing may be the best path forward.

      1. Circe*

        An additional option if you don’t want to go all the way to the news is to submit an anonymous tip to your local public health agency overseeing COVID. Ours has been contacting businesses that have been reported to make sure they are following safety precautions.

        At the very least, it should signal to leadership that someone, inside or outside the org, is highly uncomfortable with the situation.

      2. Anon for Now*

        I think that is really dependent on the culture of your area. In my area, we are dominated by meat packing plants, and so a story of this nature wouldn’t get much traction with the media. Office workers complaining about going back into the office when the local jail and meat packing plants are hot spots are the big stories. However, in other areas this would get a lot of potential traction.

    2. Bookworm*

      This. If the company *is* an essential service but the work can be done from home, local news might really appreciate this story.

      Because if your workforce is theoretically taken out because someone catches COVID, the company won’t be able to compete with others, it will put a burner on the local health system, etc.

  5. Anon nonnie nonnie*

    Is your boss in particular in favor of this? You may be able to go to them and explain your concerns and get special permission to continue working from home.

  6. limoncello day*

    “Ask your employer to explain why they’re defying the local recommendations. Point out that your competitors aren’t.”

    Unfortunately, I would worry my employer might have the “ok, go work for them then” mentality.

    1. GrumbleBunny*

      My employer would say “We know, this is how we plan to win some of their market share.”

      In fairness to my company they’ve been really supportive and taken great care of us throughout this, including providing some great perks to those people who are essential and must work from the office, but “We’re doing something our competitors aren’t” would be a feature, not a bug.

      1. limoncello day*

        Oh wow! I’ve been in the office every day since this started – do you mind sharing some of the perks your company has given to those who can’t WFH?

  7. Another name*

    Yes this absolutely sucks. As we get closer to returning to the office the guidance has been updated from “masks required in common areas” to “strongly recommended”, and “no family members” in the office to “handled on a case-by-case basis”. High touch surfaces will be be cleaned “periodically” instead of “hourly”. Oh and I was told I will have to share my office when I eventually return.

    It does not give me a lot of confidence that my workplace is looking out for my safety. I live in a state where cases are skyrocketing and the “leadership” is in denial.

    The only good news is I am in the last group to be brought back to the office due to risk, which buys me some time to try to negotiate before I will be forced to make a very hard decision.

  8. Bookworm*

    I already said my piece but also wanted to add: I’m so sorry OP. I hope you, your colleagues, loved ones, etc. all stay safe and good luck.

  9. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Can you do a guide to starting union or an Ask The Readers post on how to organize a union or something? You’ve given the advice several times recently and I think it’s great advice, but I know I wouldn’t have a clue where to start and I imagine a lot of people are probably in the same situation.

    1. Kiki*

      I’m imagining the scene from The Office where Michael Scott yells, ” I declare bankruptcy!” but with a group collectively yelling, “I declare a union!!!”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s illegal under federal law to fire you for organizing your coworkers or unionizing. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen though (look at Amazon) and it’s worth noting that right now it’s especially easy for companies to disguise it as a layoff rather than retaliation. So you need to be comfortable with the risk or have enough strength in numbers that you’ve lowered the risk.

          1. Red lines with wine*

            So that scene in The Office where Jan threatens to fire everyone if the warehouse workers keep talking about unionizing? I always thought that seemed illegal but it reflects reality.

        2. Home by Design*

          My understanding is that is illegal, but you would have to prove that the firing was because you talked about unions vs being fired for cause, let go due to lack of work, etc.

        3. PeanutButter*

          Don’t mention the union to management, or anyone who will tell management about the union. Present it to them fait accompli.

        4. JamesTiptree*

          As someone who’s been involved in a few unionizing campaigns, you tend to keep it pretty quiet early on, and then folks who are working more actively in the campaign go VERY public about being involved. It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes being more public about your support can provide more protection. Legal counsel knows that it’s illegal to fire people for organizing (even when an organization implies that you’ll be fired), so many organizations will be pretty hesitant to fire employees who have been in local press or publicly vocal about starting a union. As Alison says, it’s also good to wait until you have coworkers on board to have strength in numbers.

    2. Home by Design*

      Yes, I’m finding myself in a similar situation. Wanting to unionize, or at least know if I approach leadership with a group of staff, will we be protected under the NLRA.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        If you care enough to unionize:


        2) Read a bit on it, there is plenty online, to make sure that you can have at least some reasonable belief that you can succeed. (If it’s only you, for example, probably not. You need a group.)

        3) Once you have a core group of employees who are interested in unionizing, consider hiring a union lawyer specialist (not my area) to help you. An hour or two will tell you a lot and you’ll be able to use attorney/client privilege to protect the conversation(s). They will be able to explain the pitfalls and crucial steps.

        One other crucial issue is that lawyers translate the law. What you read may involve terms that mean REALLY different things legally than they do in common talk (e.g. “harass”) or in which the text of the law had been interpreted by a bunch of cases, etc. Lawyers can help cut through that.

        4) Consider whether this will help you in the long run, before you sign. All contracts involve tradeoffs, and although the unions themselves (you’ll probably join an existing one) will tell you how wonderful it is, not everyone always likes everything about the result. Some people decide early on to only trust one side (the union) but obviously the folks who get the dues are not going to objectively point out their own problems. Also, be aware that this can spin out beyond your personal control: Sure there are always some tradeoffs YOU would like, but by the time you get to voting those may not be the tradeoffs everyone else wants.

    3. Nonprofit worker*

      As someone in the midst of organizing their workplace, I’m definitely open to answering questions or providing some guidance. I’m certainly not a professional organizer, but I can offer some unofficial help.

    4. blackcat*

      I’d contribute to an ask the readers on this!
      One place to start is to reach out to local unions. UAW and SEIU do way more than just autoworkers or service employees! They have staff whose jobs it is to help folks unionize. You’ll then be affiliated with the national org and pay slightly more in dues than you would if you DIY, BUT it is infinitely more easier to do lots of stuff if there is already expertise. You’ll get attacked for bringing in “outside agitators” and such, but it’s worth it IMO. My experience with my SEIU local (or really, my division of the local) was great, but I’m sort of meh on them as a national org.

      1. another scientist*

        completely agree as a researcher organized in a UAW local, with everything you said.

    5. hbc*

      I was on the management end of a shop that started to unionize. (We got the notification on literally the last day of the big boss I was replacing. Good times.) As near as I could tell, the guy with the biggest grievance just contacted a random union guy he knew and networked to find someone who would help him file. There were only five eligible people at our shop, though, so maybe it was an easier process to just tack on to an existing union.

      FWIW, I got a lot of unsolicited help from the anti-union equivalent of ambulance chasers, including “Union No” t-shirts and literature explaining just how close you can go to the line without illegally squelching the attempt to unionize. Really gross.

  10. Ruby*

    The only good part of the pandemic is how frequently Alison recommends unionizing now. Everybody unionize!!!

    1. Lovecraft Beauty*

      So, uh, how do you get started on this? Asking for a …friend. Who is definitely not me.

      1. HR Exec Popping In*

        All union websites have a link to contact them about organizing. Just do a search for a local union chapter in your area that unionizes your type of workers.

      2. doreen*

        It doesn’t even have to be a union that already organizes your type of worker- I know lawyers who are affiliated with the UAW and Teamsters with jobs that don’t involve driving at all.

  11. ThankGodI'mNotAlone*

    I didn’t even finish reading the post before I hopped over to my patient portal and sent a request to my doctor to get a doctor’s note. There is talk we may have to go back Aug. 1. I am in an open-plan, hot-desking environment with 100+ employees per floor and tiny conference rooms and bathrooms with zero ventilation. Needless to say, I would NOT feel safe going back. In fact, I am having nightmares almost every night about going back in.

    Meanwhile, my (web) team has been super productive and has delivered several high-profile projects to great acclaim, 100% remotely working. So why should we even need to come in?

      1. Kimmybear*

        My company had been discussing hotdesking prepandemic and there were already vocal concerns about cleanliness and sanitation in addition to the other pushback. No one has dared mention hotdesking since we all started working remotely.

          1. Archie Goodwin*

            A fairly large part of why I started looking while at my last job was that the agency I was working for was moving to a new office which was going to require hotdesking. (And would require me to more than double my commute, *grumble*) That move is supposed to happen beginning of next year – it would be a tremendous irony if after all that they have to change their plans due to the pandemic.

            I mean, I’m not sorry I made the choice, but it would amuse me nonetheless.

      2. Bear Shark*

        My company has started discussing hoteling as a solution to getting people back in to the office.

      3. Windchime*

        That’s what the plan is for my office in October (I kind of doubt it will happen; I work for a major hospital system and they are being very careful about making people work from home).

        I have asthma. If they try to make us come back before it’s safe, I won’t hesitate to get a note from my doctor.

    1. perstreperous*

      Hot desking must die. In fact, we went further.
      As well as recycling all the hot desk equipment, we have some shared desktop computers connected to our live environment; we recycled all their (wired) keyboards and mice, then bought a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard for each person who would use these computers, paired them, and handed them out.

  12. Dandy it is*

    I work for an essential business that previous did not have a WFH culture. Most of the Corporate office went to WFH in March. At the beginning of June, we started going back at 50%. But they have done this oddly. They left it up to each department head. Therefore, we have some groups back and some groups with no one back. It doesn’t seem to actually matter about the job requirements or the fact that everyone is interacting as little as possible so being onsite doesn’t help anything.

  13. ReadyNPC3*

    We were brought back to the office on June 1st. Leading up to it, we were promised that mask wearing would be required in common spaces. That dissolved in about a week. I think three of us wear masks, out of an office of 15. We have individual offices, thankfully, and tons of sanitizer, but almost all of the office work can be done at home. The big boss doesn’t like the idea of work from home (believes it hurts morale and productivity) and apparently had an extremely mild case of COVID the week we started our short work-from-home stint, so he doesn’t believe it’s that bad. While none of the other office workers that we know about have had it, the field crews that stop into the office daily had surges of it in May. The recklessness is astounding.

    1. tangerineRose*

      The big boss thinks working from home hurts morale and productivity but doesn’t think that risking death by coming into the office is going to hurt morale and productivity!? Logic, he does not have it.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      That “I had it, it wasn’t that bad” attitude that some people have is going to to cause major troubles I predict. I’ve already heard that my sister’s boss has taken the view that ‘unless you’re elderly or immune comprised it’s no worse than getting a bad cold’ because he apparently had a mild case so anyone who’s not in those two categories is being encouraged to just carry on with normal life again. Oh and come into the cramped, poorly ventilated, rarely cleaned office too.

      Had a long chat with sis earlier. She’s the financial director for the firm and has already had an inkling that the CEO is going to push for only ‘low risk’ people to be hired in future because they cost less time and money than the high risk staff are.

      1. perstreperous*

        Given that the two principal risk reductions are being young and being female I can see mountainous lawsuits coming out of that if it is ever implemented!

      2. Annoyed Grunt*

        Rarely cleaned!!! Same boat here. We have cleaners come in every other week. That’s it! No one is wiping anything down at the beginning or end of the day/shifts. I can clean my space but I’m using my own wipes I had to bring from home.

    3. TinyStrawberries*

      My office is the same size, and I think they don’t think it’s going to be that high of a risk becuase it’s relatively small? I don’t know.

    4. J*

      You know what hurts my morale? Being forced to come into the office when I have a 100% telework-able job because we want to pretend everything is normal, science be damned. That’s what f*cking crushes my morale.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        PREACH IT. We’re not going back yet but I am already laying groundwork for justifying FT remote when they call us in. (Support Australia and Europe and India? No problem if I’m WFH!)

  14. Rebecca*

    I’m the only one in my office of 15 people with a mask that I wear when I go to the bathroom or to the copier. I use hand sanitizer, grab a disinfecting wipe when I have to touch anything, like I open the fridge door with the wipe in my hand. When I wash my hands in the bathroom, I use those paper towels to grab the bathroom door handle, then toss the paper towels in another trash container. I’m in an office by myself, but most of my coworkers aren’t following social distancing, no masks, nothing. We’re supposed to follow our state’s guidelines plus CDC guidelines. It’s just not happening.

    Like many others, I am grateful to still be employed, but I am extremely anxious and nervous about being around so many people with a cavalier attitude after 3 months of being uber careful about every single interaction I had outside my house. I know one person visits their child in a virus hotspot city on a regular basis, because they miss them. Many people in my area are “over it” and feel that it’s no worse than the flu, it’s all a scam, etc. Personally, I don’t want to find out about this first hand. But I need my job, and with unemployment so high, I’m 99% sure what will happen if I put up a fuss. So I just stay in my office with the doors shut, go out to use the bathroom and walk around outside, and hope for the best.

    1. Elenia*

      Even if it was no worse than the flu, which it’s not, I DON’T WANT TO CATCH THE FLU EITHER. If at all possible I’d like to not be sick.

      I saw a comment on Reddit I loved. If this was D&D and I found an item that had 30% disease resistance and I was going into a disease hotspot you bet your ass I’d wear that. Mask = item! Even if it is only disease resistance and not immunity!

  15. Grbtw*

    I’m loving this idea to unionize offices. If it weren’t for unions back in the day, we wouldn’t have any workplace protections. This is a great time to improve our work culture again for our futures.

  16. Covid19 Hostage*

    Removed because off-topic, and we’re not debating that here. Please ask yourself why you think you know better than the world’s public health experts. – Alison

  17. Dee*

    How will forcing everyone into an office and exposing them to a deadly disease solve any of those problems?

  18. Anononon*

    Fortunately, my company is basically doing the opposite. Local/state restrictions are now allowing offices to re-open (while still stressing that telecommuting is best), so my company is strongly encouraging everyone who can work from home (which is most people) to continue to do so for as long as possible. They do not want people in the office.

    Prior to the pandemic, we had somewhat strict WFH policies, but this pandemic has shown them that people will be/are just as productive, and I think it’s really opened their eyes.

    1. Rebecca*

      We were told what a great job we did during WFH, but we’re not allowed to continue it. Nope, butts in seats. I just came down our one hallway, someone walked out, coughed without covering her mouth, no mask, and said “oh, I’ll back up and wait for you to pass”. We are only allowed to use this one hallway, so I had a mask on, but had to walk through where she had just coughed. I am so over this already.

      1. alienor*

        Same here–the official company line is “Everyone has been great while working from home, productivity is high, etc. but we need to be together.” Asked *why* we need to be together when we’re obviously doing just fine apart (and, you know, when being together is hazardous to everyone’s health), they just repeated the same thing and said that we’ll never be a remote company. I don’t get it.

      2. Tidewater 4-1009*

        It always amazes me that anyone over age 5 coughs without covering their mouth when they *know* there are people around. Raised in a barn…

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Somewhere between wall-poop boss and kitchen sink pee boss, my amaze button broke.

  19. TinyStrawberries*

    My office is being weirdly vague about rules – we’re not technically essential, so we’re not open, but people are coming in to pick up items and clean their offices. They’ve also apparently said something like the CDC does not recommend PPE for offices that don’t already use it, so no one was wearing a mask and the three people there looked at me like I was a weirdo for keeping my mask on when I went in to pick something up. The wildest thing about this is that we’re in a very liberal field, in a very liberal city and state. I want to go into work as well, but right now that would just make me more anxious than staying home!!

  20. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    This is why I don’t actually believe that US culture is going to shift to a distributed/work from anywhere standard. What I’ve heard from recruiters in the past month is in line with what I’m seeing the in the comments so far.

    The underlying message is clear; “We pay you to be miserable in our building. The work is just there to keep you from getting bored.”

    1. Anon for Now*

      I think what is going to happen is that we are going to see more extremes between employers.

      My employer informed everyone this week that everyone will be working from home until 2021 unless there is a vaccine or break through treatment that makes COVID more like the seasonal flu (neither of which they think will happen). And many organizations in the city I live in are doing similar things. However, for every organization that is asking their employees to WFH for the next several months there is at least other organization that is pretending that none of this is real and putting their employees at risk. So I think this situation is just heightening the extremes and will continue to do so.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        My prediction for change? 2021 when health insurance policies calculate the different covid19 care costs for companies that behave differently — especially if they set enrollment costs to reflect that.

  21. CRM*

    I’m so sorry that you are going through this OP. I’m part of a committee that is managing our company’s COVID-19 response, and we are fighting to keep people working remotely despite push-back from upper management. It’s been really draining and stressful, but hearing accounts like yours lights a fire under me to keep going, because I know we have a lot of people at our company who feel the same way.

    Sending you all of my best.

    1. Hiding from our open office*

      Thank you for fighting the good fight. We appreciate your efforts.

  22. Chronic Overthinker*

    LW I am sorry that the company is forcing you to return to the office. My suggestion is to ask what precautions are taking place while everyone is coming back. Will there be social distancing? Will there be hand sanitizer and wipes available? What is the mask policy? How often will surfaces be cleaned? Are there shared desks/cubicles, if so how will those be handled? Also, The staggering seems like a feeble attempt to try and be safer, but I agree that some of the workforce may have issues with the commute, especially if some are parents. I agree with Alison that it is time to band together with your co-workers and let them know what issues you all are facing and if necessary the public needs to know.

  23. Anon for This*

    My company is a weird middle of all of this. I am the HR person (small org) and have been able to get WFH until August for a good portion of people who can, but not everyone. There is a team in particular that leadership is insisting on being here, normally for compelling reasons, but in a pandemic I find it a hard sell (we have been accommodating all medical related requests).

    Since I couldn’t win WFH on all fronts, I focused on safety. We are all 6 ft or more apart, we all wear masks around the office, regular cleaning, temp checks, etc. People are following these rules very well and have been for the last month or so with only sporadic reminders. No one has decided that wearing a mask is problematic and it’s very accepted in our current culture (friendly reminders are met with a “thank you”) I am also planting the seed that as we bring more people back from furlough we are going to need to have more people WFH to maintain our safety protocols. Those conversations have been much more successful.

    This is all to say, this is hard right now for those of us who are stuck in the middle. Not everyone agrees on the risks and presenting facts doesn’t help. I wish we had kept everyone working from home longer, but in the absence of that option, I will do everything I can to keep this place as safe as possible. So far, it’s been working.

  24. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I do wonder if the ‘it’s not that bad, we don’t need all this mask and social distancing stuff’ managers are going to be the first off the mark complaining when a significant number of their staff are off ill in a few weeks time.

    Anyway. Returning to work under fear, alongside Alison’s advice, I’d suggest people sit and think about possible situations at work etc and what they plan to do. Having plans can help a lot with the stress, at least for me! Things like, thinking up replies (witty optional) for why you’re wearing a mask if other people aren’t bothering. Repurposing some kind of stick or long object to gently enforce a proper distance between you and others (finally my walking stick has another use!), suggested alternatives for if your boss decides to call an all-bodies meeting in a closed stuffy meeting room etc.

    For some, I know thinking of worst case and what you’d do is a major stress and anxiety so don’t do this in depth if it’s going to wreck your sanity. Mental health is just as important as keeping that virus out of our bodies.

    1. beanie gee*

      Your first point has me thinking. If the company is sensitive to bad press, I wonder if they might be swayed by the possibility of their office turning into a hotspot. A lot of news lately is around companies with new clusters of cases. Maybe that could be used when the group collectively pushes back. “We don’t want the company to be in the news as the latest virus hotspot, especially when most of our work can be done remotely.”

  25. Nic the librarian*

    Our library is reopening to 25% capacity in the next few weeks; it was announced during a spike in cases both in city and county. While staff has been overall great about being conscienscious and cleaning frequently, the fact is that we are sharing spaces regularly; most staff members don’t have their own computers, and the ones that do are crammed into shared cubicle areas. We have yet to hear how this is all going to work, since we’re increasing staff yet again for this purpose.
    Companies and orgs that do this, know that you’re going to lose talent in the future because of your actions in the present. Workers who feel unsafe won’t necessarily start looking elsewhere right now, but once we have the ability to do so, we can and will jump ship.

  26. Over It*

    I work for a small but deemed essential family-owned business. There are 6 of us in the office, and we’re all working alternate 3 day weeks. We have one employee here who has yet to grasp the reality of Covid-19. He doesn’t wear a mask when he’s not at work (in our state, masks are required) and I’m certain that he does not social distance outside of work. He just got back from vacation and told us that where he went, no one was wearing masks, the restaurants were packed and yet….he went to the restaurants anyway. Today he came to work with a bad headache and said he felt like he was getting sick. He ended up going home and our boss called him and told him to get tested for Covid-19 or he can’t come back to the office. That’s all well and good, but it bothers the hell out of me that he willingly took part in the “no masks / packed restaurants” scene and decided not to wear a mask or social distance. People like him enrage me to no en.

    1. Mediamaven*

      That’s where I’m struggling with bringing people back to work. Some people have worked really hard to follow the rules – should they be exposed to someone who hasn’t? Not fair. But then it’s also not fair that he gets to stay working from home because he may have gotten sick but others have to come in. It’s like you can’t win. Some everyone will continue to stay home for now.

    2. I don’t get it..*

      Canada here, but our public health has a mechanism to report those not adhering to public health guidelines. Maybe yours does too?

  27. RMNPgirl*

    I’m in an essential field (healthcare adjacent) and anyone who can work remote has been, but we also have a lot of employees who cannot work remote. Those of us who supervise those employees have been coming in as well since we can’t always be remote. Some of our departments that do better with some on-site have been rotating who has been in.

    Our requirements to be in are that temperatures have to be taken and recorded at the beginning and end of every shift. Masks must be worn at all times unless you are alone in your office or eating in a break room. All meeting rooms and break rooms are limited to number of people and you must get at least 6 feet between everyone. All meetings that can be virtual are being held that way. We don’t have very good public transportation where we are so we don’t have many employees having to navigate that aspect.

    I feel safest at work than I do anywhere else essential I go to, like grocery stores where 70% of customers aren’t wearing masks.

  28. Employment Lawyer*

    As for the CV:

    Employers are generally permitted to rely on government. If the government says “you must go home” and you still feel safe, you need to go home. If the government say “it’s OK to make your employees work” and you don’t feel safe, you still have to go to work. There is a tendency on both sides to want to follow advice when it matches what you already want, and push aside the advice when it conflicts with what you want. This is just human nature. But in the end this is more of an objective thing.

    In other words, and with no intent to snark, your personal feelings on the matter don’t really come into play in a legal sense. Which makes sense: otherwise every company would be at the whim of whatever its employees claimed to feel.

    By designating your business as “essential,” someone has decided that it’s important enough to take higher risks. And by setting up rules which allow for people to return, someone has also decided that it’s safe to do so. And of course there are probably a lot of people who would actively love to work at the company (see comment about huge unemployment) and who would think the risks are worthwhile even for in-person work, so this also makes some economic sense.

    1. Alice*

      Wouldn’t it be great if people exposed to the virus at work could sue their employer to cover their medical expenses if they catch it, in situations where the employer is not taking PPE and NPI seriously.

      1. Carlee*

        Hard to prove somebody got it at work. Even the most careful person could follow all precautions and get it at the grocery store.

      2. Grbtw*

        I’m in a state where currently, the employer has to prove the employee didn’t get it at work. Employees are entitled to workers comp, and you better believe I have proof that I’ve only been to work and home in the last few months, my husband has instructions to sue the f out of that office of I get sick. They refused to allow work from home at all and I’m the only one who follows the state guidelines, so if I get sick, it will be from that place. If you get sick, talk to a lawyer before accepting workers comp, you may loose your right to sue.

    2. Oh No She Di'int*

      I was kind of with you until this part: “And by setting up rules which allow for people to return, someone has also decided that it’s safe to do so.”

      Not necessarily. All that means is that someone has figured out ways to mitigate health risks given the tradeoff of essential work vs. illness. That’s all it means. It doesn’t mean that anyone has certified it “safe”. Public health guidelines are mainly geared toward lowering the overall infection rate, keeping it to within manageable limits. They are not geared toward ensuring that every single last individual remains healthy. How could they? Making sure that you are individually healthy has always been and continues to be up to YOU.

      1. James*

        “It doesn’t mean that anyone has certified it “safe”.”

        I’ve been the safety coordinator on a number of construction jobs. What you said is the absolute truth when it comes to safety. “Safe” is impossible. All you can do is mitigate risks to some reasonable level. If you get out of bed in the morning there’s a risk you’ll fall and break your neck; if you don’t, there’s a risk your house will collapse around you.

  29. Retail not Retail*

    My job cannot be done from home and we remained at work through the initial shut down – reduced hours but no reduced pay.

    Now we’re open to the public and not enforcing any of our nice shiny rules like “go in this direction” and “wear a mask”. We’re having events – we’re having kids get sick from the heat, it’s a great time all around.

    But we’re outdoors so everyone assumes we’re immune. There’s no disinfecting and some of us wear masks but we do heavy manual labor in tight spots!

    Having the public back is just !!!!!! in my head all day. Just keep the mask on and keep my distance.

  30. I hate this timeline*

    My job can be done 100% remotely but my work is insisting that everyone come back in July unless you have a medical reason not to. The reasoning is that letting anybody do remote work (minus people with medical needs) is not fair to the people who don’t have jobs that can’t be easily done remotely. : /

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      That particular argument bugs me… everyone who must come in is safer when there are fewer people in the same airspace!

  31. Carlee*

    I live in Canada and work for the federal government – we’ve been working home since March, my department is “digital by default” and you effectively need an oath signed in blood by your Deputy Minister for one-time access to your office to pick up your stuff (or screen or reference books or whatever) and are threatening not to let everybody go back until there is a vaccine.

    My job (hell, entire several thousand person part of a department) can be done from home… and omfg, I hate it, I’m losing my mind and am miserable about the thought of being stuck in a home office until at least October. Or next spring.

    I guess I’m lucky… but omfg, no interacting with people, so much stuff shut down despite negligible COVID rates in my large city.

  32. Annoyed Grunt*

    My boss is doing this. It’s ridiculous. She even went through the process to get paperwork declaring us an essential business—WE ARE NOT AN ESSENTIAL BUSINESS. This is unethical. There is ONE small bottle of half full hand sanitizer that belongs to me personally that she put by the front door. The tiny office is tiny and shaped like an oval with a partial wall through the center. There’s no way for anyone to walk from the front door to their desk or the bathroom or the printer or anything without constantly walking by everyone. They aren’t providing masks and no one is wearing their own masks. We have no ventilation and are not following many of the other CDD/OSHA/common sense recommendations. We don’t have many staff and it seems like I’m the only one bothered by any of this. When I pushed back, my boss dodged the issue and instead brought up that it was time for my annual evaluation.

  33. Kate H*

    We were forced back to the office last week, even though all of our jobs are fully capable of being done at home. There was no pushing back as a group because upper management refuses to answer emails with other people included. If you push for reasoning, you get some vague answer about “company culture.” The truth is it’s so our VP can sit in his office all day and watch us on the cameras so he knows we’re working.

    My coworkers aren’t taking it seriously. One attended multiple cookouts over the weekend, one goes to the gym everyday, one hangs out with friends all the time, and one just returned from a week-long vacation from Florida (where they announced record same-day positive cases almost every day he was there).

  34. FoogooFish*

    I work for a state university whose top leadership has told everyone to WFH as much as possible. We started doing this mid-March, and the return dates have been pushed from end of May, to end of June, to our current posture of mid-August. My job is easily done remote, and I’ve had no issues… until I got an email yesterday from a supervisor asking me to call them on their office phone. I did, and I was told that one of my department supervisors wants everyone to start coming back to the office “to sit in case the phone rings.” Using some language that I picked up from AAM, I pushed back and said I didn’t feel comfortable going against the stated university position since my job is easily done remote. There was a bit of (polite) back-and-forth, and it was mentioned that I might have to use accrued leave – which means that I’d be at home, and you can rest assured that I’m not going to do ANY work from home if I’m using leave! I had to go into the office today for a meeting (that could’ve been done via Zoom – and was for others, but we had to be there in person because… reasons?) and I fully expected to have to defend my position. I rehearsed the things I planned to say during my commute. Both the supervisor who called me and the supervisor who wants butts in seats were there, and… ultimately, nothing was said to me. I think they must’ve realized that they can’t flout the official position without making a formal, written decree that -everyone- has to return to the office. (And I’d called another co-worker to ask if she’d been told to return; she said she’d not, so it was just aimed at me. Me, that co-worker, and another co-worker are the only ones on a dozen-ish team who still WFH – everyone else is on Zoom at the office.) And since such a statement would be against the policy governing the whole university… it wouldn’t fly with top leadership. I’m a keep-my-head-down type, so this was the first time I’ve said “no” to something and stuck to it. My health is something that I value, and I was prepared to die on this hill. Fingers crossed that this’ll be the end of it!

  35. KT*

    I wonder if anyone will see this since this post is a few days old, but has anyone heard of employers making returning employees sign liability waivers around contracting COVID-19 in the workplace? I work for a visitor-facing attraction, and as we plan our reopening making visitors sign waivers is something that has been discussed. I’m concerned it’s going to be required for employees too, and I’m curious about the legality.

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