am I in the wrong about my employee’s COVID exposure?

A reader writes:

My husband and I own a micro-business and have 1.5 post-Covid employees. Our full-time employee reported a possible exposure last week. He is considered essential so we reinforced precautions based on CDC recommendations for those who have unconfirmed exposure. The person he was exposed to was his girlfriend. The next day after reporting this, he informed us she was feeling much worse and was going to get tested. We removed him immediately from our job site and sent him to get tested and remain quarantined until he and his girlfriend got their results. When I last spoke to him, I reminded him to follow CDC recommendations and quarantine expectations.

He lives with his parents and his girlfriend lives with her grandma. I received a call today informing me that his test came back negative, but his girlfriend’s came back positive. He then explained that his girlfriend didn’t want to be at home with her grandma and he assumed they would both have it so they spent the weekend (after they got their tests but before they got their results) quarantining together. Allegedly his doctor said as long as he is still symptom-free by Friday, he can return to work.

What the hell should we do here? We can’t afford to pay him for the two-week quarantine and pay our part-time employee at the same time. We are super busy and cannot realistically turn down any work because we have lost several hundred thousand dollars already due to Covid. I want to pay him — but this was the worst possible time financially to have to eat a week of payroll.

My husband wants to fire him (after paying him whatever we are legally obligated to pay him). And while I’m normally the much more reasoned and HR-minded person, I’m not far off from agreeing with him. I don’t believe in policing people after hours by any stretch, but his actions are having severe consequences on my business. This is a not a situation where I can have him work from home for two weeks. Our work is labor intensive and very much field work with deadlines. Some of those deadlines are financially imposed (liquidated damages, etc).

Not that it matters, but our employee also told us that his girlfriend attended a party a few weeks back which later had a confirmed positive case amongst the attendees. They are certain that is where she got it from. I know that how/when/why anybody got this isn’t my business, but I also can’t unknow it.

We are very much a family small business — my toddler comes to work with me, we have as much flexibility with our employees as we can on things like hours and schedule, we have a beer fridge, etc. We do the types of things that we feel foster an environment where people want to be. I’m so glad our employee was honest with us — he could have chosen to say nothing at all so I don’t want to punish him for that. I am also extremely angry that their lack of precaution is seeping into my business and going to have a huge financial impact to us and as much as I don’t want to punish, I don’t feel like I can let this whole situation go.

I know this isn’t Reddit, but am I the asshole here?

I’m going to throw this out to readers because I think there are a bunch of different ways to argue this, but one quick thought from me is that your employee could have been relatively responsible and still ended up testing positive or in a situation where he needed the two-week quarantine. If that would be disastrous for your business, that part isn’t his fault.

I know your anger is about the fact that he behaved recklessly and this could have been avoided, and that’s 100% legitimate. But as you think about what to do, I think it’s worth at least factoring in that you could have found yourself in this situation even if he’d behaved differently.

{ 718 comments… read them below }

  1. PiggyStardust*

    If you fire him, will you be able to replace him in enough time to mitigate any sort of financial damage to your business caused by missed deadlines?

    1. Elle*

      Great question, and along those same lines – what kind of employee is he otherwise? Will he be difficult to replace?

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      And on the flip side, if you don’t fire him and he can’t work from home because he does field work, will he come in contact with any of your customers/clients? Can you find ways to minimize their exposure to him when he performs his job duties?

    3. pcake*

      In my opinion, that shouldn’t be a concern compared to whether the letter writer and their family will be at high risk in this situation.

      1. Lavender Menace*

        Of course it should be a concern – right now, they’re weighing the financial burden that this will have on their business. This is their livelihood; it wouldn’t be good for them to avoid covid-19 only to find that their business is now unsustainable or they can’t afford to feed themselves anymore.

    4. Hopefully not the asshole*

      No. That is the root cause I think of most of our anger – we are literally between a rock, a hard spot, and Covid. We cannot replace him in a reasonable amount of time nor can we escape any further financial damage from trying. And while eating two weeks of pay is hard, the real underlying issue is that we might actually have to forfeit work that we desperately need. We were prepared for the reality of someone testing positive on our payroll – what we weren’t prepared for was the intentional post test exposure.

      I am currently reminding myself of the following:
      Not everyone has the same privilege to totally isolate like we do in our household
      That he did have honorable intent (saving grandma – just confirmed this morning) leading up to his bad decision making
      As an employee he should not be burdened with how hard it is to keep our doors open right now

      1. A*

        Im glad youve come to these conclusions on your own because this is how I read his intentions, esp because he was honest about everything. Some thoughtlessness involved but it kind of just is what it is – we can’t all fully isolate – the most irresponsible one seems to be the girlfriend from what I’ve read here.

          1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            It doesn’t sound like the employee went- just the girlfriend.

            1. lazy intellectual*

              Yeah – as long as the employee didn’t attend the party – he is not the thoughtless one here. It looks like he put a lot of thought into the situation. There were just no good options.

              Even if he did isolated from gf, wouldn’t he have to quarantine for at least 2 weeks?

      2. L*

        I don’t know how much this changes your thinking but you said “what we weren’t prepared for was the intentional post test exposure.”.

        Depending on the test he got, there is a 67% chance that he got a false negative. I agree that they should have stayed apart, but I guess I’d also wonder if they were trying to protect her grandma and if his doctor had said he should assume he has it whatever the test said.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I think it might be safe to assume that he did catch it or that he will soon, considering his past actions.

          1. (insert name here)*

            Yes. Even if it wasn’t a false negative, he re-exposed himself, so I would not allow him back to work.

        2. Alice's Rabbit*

          When doctors say “assume you have it,” they don’t mean spend more time with those who have been exposed. They mean try to avoid others who haven’t already been exposed. It’s sad how many people don’t understand that.

      3. pancakes*

        I’m not following as to what the employee and his girlfriend’s intentions were regarding his parents, or why it’s somehow honorable to expose both of them to to a deadly virus. The honorable thing to do here, from my point of view, would have been for your employee and his girlfriend to avoid attending parties while there’s a deadly virus going around.

        I’m not sure what you mean about burdening the employee.

        1. Anononon*

          You’ve commented several times that the better thing to have done would be not going to parties. But that horse has already left the barn. You can’t un-ring the bell. The employee was also caught in a tough spot that involved either his job or potentially someone’s death, and you can’t fault him for making the decision that he thought may save a life.

          1. pancakes*

            Of course, but I can ask people who say things that don’t make sense to me what their reasoning is. I don’t know enough about the employee’s living circumstances to take it for granted that he and his girlfriend didn’t expose his parents to risk as well, and neither do you.

            1. Anononon*

              Am I missing from the letter where it said the employee lives with his own parents? I read it a couple times, but I could be missing it.

              1. AllerDerm*

                Second paragraph first sentence: “He lives with his parents and his girlfriend lives with her grandma.”

            2. Seeking Second Childhood*

              One presumes that the grandmother is older than his parents, who may not be over the ‘official’ high risk age.

        2. TechWorker*

          The ‘honourable’ bit was his girlfriend, once she was aware that she might have been exposed, not wanting to be in the same house as her grandma. (And presumably assuming that if she had it, he would too, so isolating ‘together’ wouldn’t make any difference).

          In the grand scheme of ‘unreasonable things people are doing right now’ that doesn’t sound like the worst.

          1. pancakes*

            It doesn’t sound like the best, either. Certainly not what I would call honorable.

            1. Anonapots*

              I think for a lot of these situations there will be no best, just least worst. Was it honorable? Who knows? Was it the least best he could do? Probably.

              1. pancakes*

                I don’t know enough about her living situation or the boyfriend’s to recommend one. I don’t see congratulating either of them on their supposedly noble intentions as a solution, though — how would it be?

      4. Hannah*

        I think I keep getting caught on “intentionally”. If he was one of those people attending COVID parties, that’s intentional. But it sounds like he assumed he already had it so he tried to make the best of the situation.

        The fact that he prioritized helping his girlfriend’s grandma when you would have prefered he prioritized keeping himself healthy is not the same as intentionally getting sick. This was a tough choice, just like too many of us are stuck with during this pandemic.

        1. Anne of Green Gables*

          Yes, Hannah summed up how I feel about it. I don’t agree with the label of “intentional” here. He knew he was potentially exposed, didn’t have full info because test hadn’t come back yet, and made the best decision he could with the info he had–quarantine the two potentially exposed people together away from high-risk grandma.

          The reality is right now, a lot of people are faced with which of several really crappy options to pick. And they are typically picking without a full picture, due to how long it takes to get test results. It doesn’t make the situation any less awful, but I’m not convinced that in this situation, he wasn’t trying to honestly do the best he could with the options he had.

          1. Jessica*

            I agree with this evaluation too. In reading the description of what he did, it seemed like he was doing the best he could with the available information, the available living space, etc. I don’t see a firing offense here. Honestly I think the headline “intentionally exposed himself to COVID” was overblown- it sounds more like he got exposed the same way anyone could.

      5. Ann O. Nymous*

        I can understand why you’re frustrated but I think you’re ascribing ill intent or recklessness when there really isn’t evidence of that based on the details you provided. He reasonably assumed he had COVID due to his partner testing positive, and made a difficult decision based on the circumstances trying to protect more vulnerable people. This letter and your comments really give off your frustration — it almost seems like you’re taking his actions as a personal F-you to you. I’d really advise you to stop projecting your anger on your employee who’s a human being trying to do the best they can in these terrible times. If you can’t let go of your resentment, then I hope he leaves his position because I don’t think you’d be a good or fair boss to him if you continue to view things this way. While I can’t imagine the stress you’re under and I think it’s normal to try and focus blame at a specific person or thing rather than a more intangible situation, if this were Reddit I’d have to give you a YTA.

      6. Jules the 3rd*

        I read it the same way you do but: from all that I’ve read, his assumption that they both had it is probably correct, and he just got one of the 15% false negatives, or had it earlier. 15% is a *lot* of false negatives. The US does not have a reliable testing regime yet.

        Could you ask him to be tested again? The regular up-the-nose swab, not antibody tests. Those are so bad they’re not worth the time / money right now.

        Good luck, COVID sucks.

      7. Coder von Frankenstein*

        That’s pretty much your answer then. If you can’t afford to fire him, don’t fire him. Read him the riot act if you want, but it sounds like firing him would be cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    5. CTT*

      I’m also wondering what would be the impact on the PT employee – could they realistically take on the FT employee’s workload for however long it takes to find a new person, would OP try to find a temp during that time instead so there’s no change to the PT employee?

      Also, I think OP has to consider whether firing the FT employee would make the PT employee worry that they might be fired if they catch Covid too. It sounds like there weren’t any rules for how to proceed if you think you’re infected (going off of OP saying “he could have chosen to say nothing at all”); I get wanting to be flexible when there are so many unknowns, but if OP does fire this employee, are they considering standards to put in place so this doesn’t happen again and everyone’s on the same page?

      1. Hopefully not the asshole*

        We have standards and protocol in place. What I meant by he could have chosen to say nothing at all is that he could just never had said anything at all and gone on with his day. There is no protocol in the world that can prevent someone from being dishonest. If we terminated him, which I don’t think we will, it would not be because he caught covid but because he failed to follow our quarantine protocol – which includes isolating from everyone – not just those that you think are healthy. Our part time guy is off right now due to Service, and will not be able to move up to FT once he returns.

        1. Jimmy Neutron*

          “If we terminated him, which I don’t think we will, it would not be because he caught covid but because he failed to follow our quarantine protocol – which includes isolating from everyone – not just those that you think are healthy.”

          Hate to break it to you, but that’s exactly what it’s going to look like in court and you’re going to be out a lot more money after that.

        2. Former prof*

          I’m wondering if an employer can legally tell an employee how to self-isolate outside of work. Not that it isn’t a good idea to have a suggested protocol for off-work hours, but is it enforceable? Or, as Jimmy Neutron suggests, will it just look like an excuse for firing someone with COVID? OP, I am sorry you find yourself in this position. I’m not sure it was ultimately avoidable, but I understand that you feel frustrated and upset.

          1. Jimmy Neutron*

            They could, but there would have to be a written policy that was given to the employee, and then decide if they want to keep working at the OPs business – like a change in a contract. In this instance, this has not happened, the employee didn’t violate an established policy, the OP just doesn’t like that he values his girlfriends grandmother’s life over the OP having to pay two weeks of sick leave. Absolutely TA.

        3. actually works in a COVID screening clinic*

          Unfortunately, due to test characteristics, even with the negative test, he may well have COVID — are you sure you want him back at work? Our clinic protocol would recommend that he continue to isolate despite the negative test

        4. Ann Perkins*

          “… but because he failed to follow our quarantine protocol – which includes isolating from everyone – not just those that you think are healthy”

          Can you expand on this? Your quarantine protocol is that he has to isolate from everyone in his personal life? Or are you saying he should have quarantined alone (which is really still with his parents) once he knew he was exposed via girlfriend?

          1. Hopefully not the asshole*

            The protocol we follow is the CDC recs which is isolating from everyone in a separate room from others.

            1. blackcat*

              That may not have been feasible though (and this goes beyond the “not everyone can have sandwiches” thing, because *so many* people live somewhere where they must share at least a bathroom with another person).

              Maybe she shares a room with grandma.
              Maybe she was worried about sharing *a bathroom* with grandma.
              Maybe if she stayed with him, the two of them could basically isolate together, in a separate room and using a separate bathroom from his parents.
              Maybe they did exactly what was advised by their medical team.

              The CDC recs are *really* not feasible for many folks who live in high density housing. The only good solution is the “COVID hotel” solution, where mildly ill people can go stay away from families. Blame the government for the GF not having access to one. Don’t blame the employee for making what was likely the least bad among a bunch of bad choices.

              1. blackcat*

                (To be clear, I recognize you’re in a really hard spot. But so is he. If you are frustrated and angry, direct that anger at those who did not take the appropriate actions to protect your community from infection. I’m willing to bet you live in an area that has more daily cases now than when you entered lockdown in March. Does it make sense to have been closed then and open now? Maybe, maybe not, and our lack of clarity is due to a lack of leadership.)

  2. Blue Eagle*

    No, if you fire him you are NTA. When each of us makes decisions about our behavior during this pandemic, it is our responsibility to consider not only how it affects us but how it affects those around us. If he had quarantined by himself until his test results were back, he would be able to come to work. It was his choice to not self-quarantine but to live with someone who was infected. OK, that is his choice, but now he has to accept the consequences of his choice.
    Now it is your choice to decide what is best for you and your business – i.e. he was free to make whatever choice he chose, but now he has to live with the consequences.
    So sorry that you are going through this stress. I wish you the best of luck with your business.

      1. Poopsie*

        It does say though that he alerted them to the chance he might have been exposed days before, then spent the weekend together assuming he had it

        1. HoHumDrum*

          I mean to be fair, if my SO got infected I would just assume I’m going to be infected too and wouldn’t change my routine.

          It might be different because I live in a one bedroom apartment with him so I don’t have other options really, but I’m just saying I do get the mentality of “Well we’ve been intimate with each other enough that there’s no way she has it and I don’t, so I might as well stay with her to a) limit exposure to my family/housemates and b) try to take care of each other”.

          1. Works in IT*

            Yeah, my coworker’s wife definitely has it and we’ve just been operating under the assumption that he has it and is asymptomatic without waiting for the test results. Given the rate of false negatives cropping up in people with mild or no symptoms, it’s entirely possible that even with the negative test result, he has it.

            This situation sucks, but his actions post COVID exposure have been responsible. Actually, the proposed alternatives, whereby either his girlfriend (who DEFINITELY has COVID) goes to stay with AN ELDERLY RELATIVE or he (possibly asymptomatic) stays with other, healthy family members until his test results are back…. test results that aren’t good for conclusively confirming that he doesn’t have it… are both incredibly irresponsible.

            1. Sharrbe*

              Agree. From the boss’s perspective, he is considered irresponsible because the boss is only looking at it from the perspective of a business owner. However, both are actually acting in the best interests of their respective families. Which do you choose? To inconvenience your employer, or possibly kill a relative? I’m not unsympathetic to the employer’s predicament, but Alison’s point is valid – the employee could have gotten Covid through no fault of his own, or he could have been hit by a car in a crosswalk, or had a death in the family. All employees have emergencies that interfere with work. If the business doesn’t have the ability to handle them, then something deeper is wrong.

              Note: The girlfried WAS DEFINITELY irresponsible for going to that party, though. But his employer shouldn’t punish him for the actions of someone else.

              1. JustAClarifier*

                I absolutely agree with this point and want to add that – as much as the impact to the business sucks, Letter Writer – it sounds like your husband and yourself are taking this personally. You need to look at it from this perspective: if someone is with a significant other often enough, they would have been exposed even before symptoms began to appear. This was not intentional exposure. While the girlfriend apparently had zero judgment, your employee has demonstrated that he at least does. Your employee was making the decision outlined by Sharrbe above and seems to be doing everything in their power to ensure people around them are safe. If anything, the way he’s handling this situation would make me as a manager more confident in their judgment.

              2. blackcat*

                “Which do you choose? To inconvenience your employer, or possibly kill a relative?”
                Yep. This is exactly why I think the employee was being responsible.

                1. ampersand*

                  Yeah, we’re in unprecedented times: most of us haven’t had to ask ourselves that particular question before now. As with many things during this pandemic, there are no good answers here. I don’t fault the employee in this situation; everything about it is unfortunate.

                2. JM60*

                  Except that’s a false dichotomy. For many people, quarantining the sick person in the same house is an option. It’s not perfect, since COVID may transmit through air conditioning, and it may not always be possible for the sick person to stay out of common areas and shared bathrooms for their entire sickness. However, it would protect the elderly, while reducing overall transmission risk to others.

                3. HoHumDrum*

                  My understanding is that quarantining someone in the same home as vulnerable people is actually a really terrible option unless you have no other choice. IIRC one of the big breakthroughs China had in fighting COVID was realizing that they needed to isolate sick people from their families, in like hotel/hospital wards, because otherwise the rest of the family would invariably get it.

              3. Archaeopteryx*

                Yes, if anything should be held responsible for not isolating from her after she went to that party, or not urging her to get preventively tested after going to that party (which she was obviously tremendously irresponsible to do no matter what the circumstances).

                But it definitely makes sense to avoid staying with your elderly relative, and if you’ve smooched a bunch in the meantime you’re not going to assume there’s a chance you don’t both have it.

              4. AnxiouslyAnon*

                This is exactly how I felt reading this. The employee was responsible as one could expect (if I had an SO I would expect to have gotten it, too), and then actually TOLD the boss he was in the clear instead of just saying he was positive and taking the two weeks. He’s actually shown to be VERY trust worthy and have good judgment, so I’m not sure why Alison thinks he isn’t going to be able to be trusted in the future. He’s been pretty transparent, open, and gave his reasoning that makes absolute sense. Yes, it’s not ideal from a business perspective, but neither would him just quitting in this scenario. And I get the owner’s panic given everything, but this reaction just so seems to be centered on business and financials rather than human empathy and understanding that firing the employee would solidly put them in the “YTA” category.

                (And yes, the girlfriend was irresponsible for going to a party. But that is again not the employee’s fault. For all the employer knows the employee tried to convince the girlfriend to NOT go to the party and she didn’t listen.)

                1. kt*

                  I’d cut the business owner some slack. Given the situation, it may not just be a shallow money-grubbing interest in financials, but instead “we either make payroll or pay our home mortgage, but not both”.

                2. specialist*

                  I’m not going to give the employee a pass on this. He didn’t make the best choice. He chose to quarantine with a person who was sick and probably had Covid. That is not smart and I sincerely doubt that he followed the advice of the physician/health care personnel who administered the test.

                3. Evan Þ.*

                  @specialist, what would you have advised him to do instead? Get an expensive hotel room?

                4. specialist*

                  Where were they quarantining together?
                  Hotel room? He could have paid for part of it for her and stayed with his parents, under in house quarantine as discussed by the CDC. She could then have the room to herself. Expensive hotel room? Why not go with one of the cheaper options, or even a mid range. I’m a fan of the cheaper hotels anyhow. No need to spend for a five star hotel if that’s the question.
                  We know they didn’t stay with her grandmother. Although the girlfriend has likely returned to live with her grandmother, as the poster seems to indicate they aren’t quarantining together, so this idea that they were trying to protect the grandmother from exposure is moot.
                  Most likely, they stayed with his parents at his place. So they exposed his parents to this as well.
                  This was an opportunity for the two of them to spend more time together. They took the opportunity, even though there was a risk that they wouldn’t both be positive. You gamble you have to realize that you could lose.

                5. JM60*

                  @Evan Þ

                  They should stay in different parts of their home (if possible). If they have a multi bedroom apartment or house to themselves, they should stay in different bedrooms at least until after the sick person is no longer contagious. Same goes for bathrooms. Plus, use of common areas should be minimized (e.g., bringing meals to the girlfriend’s door so she doesn’t have to also go into the kitchen).

              5. Alli525*

                100% agreed. A lot of people don’t have the kind of housing situation where they can sequester themselves away from their partner or roommate. My brother’s GF had to keep going into work even though her company (a bank) wasn’t taking the appropriate measures to protect anyone – she got sick and then he did, because they live in a studio apartment – and who in their right minds would hear “hey, my live-in GF is symptomatic, can I come stay with you?” and agree when infection risk is so high?

                It sounds like OP wants to punish the GF through their employee, and as someone who is pretty severely struggling with anger and control issues toward people who aren’t taking risks seriously, I think OP is way overreacting.

              6. EventPlannerGal*

                “All employees have emergencies that interfere with work. If the business doesn’t have the ability to handle them, then something deeper is wrong.”

                Absolutely. And (possibly controversial) furthermore: I think it’s a little much to describe this business as fostering a welcoming environment because the owner brings their toddler to work and they have a beer fridge, when accommodating what is essentially a family medical situation is taken as this huge personal f-you. Workers don’t need beer fridges, they need to be able to avoid exposing their family members to a deadly disease without getting fired for it.

                1. MelonHelen*

                  “Workers don’t need beer fridges, they need to be able to avoid exposing their family members to a deadly disease without getting fired for it.”


            2. JM60*

              Do you have any citations for there being high rates of false negatives?

              Regardless, when people in the same household presumably have COVID, the right thing to do is to try to distance yourself from them if possible (sleep in a different bedroom, have them stay out of common areas as much as possible, etc.).

          2. animaniactoo*

            This is where I land. It wasn’t that he gave no thought to the situation. He gave it thought and from a risk assessment perspective actually drew a reasonable conclusion and took a course of action that was reasonable based on that.

            The thing here is that he actually turned out not to have it when that was by less likely outcome.

            If his test had turned up positive, I suspect that OP’s mindset would be “Ugh! This sucks! Covid sucks!”, not “My employee made several risky decisions that have screwed me/us.”

            It is also entirely possible that he HAS gotten it but doesn’t have enough viral load yet to turn up positive, so in another week, he’ll be sick as a dog and waiting for another test to come back.

            1. TheSockMonkey*

              I agree. I think the OP is looking at it through a lens of stress and a “me first” attitude.

              1. M2*

                Really? The “me first” reaction is the employee and GF. The GF who lived with an elderly relative and went to a party! And the LW did tell the employee to adhere to CDC guidelines while quarantining which includes not seeing or spending time with people you don’t live with. He doesn’t live with his GF so he broke the CDC guidelines and his employers rules. I think it’s good he actually told them but the employee and GF has questionable judgement that is for sure!

                1. HoHumDrum*

                  To be fair, in my area the numbers are relatively low and people are allowed to gather if you stay outside/wear masks/socially distance. Obviously you can still get sick even doing all that, but I don’t think it’s insanely reckless to do something your local health department is saying is fine. I mean, I’m online enough to know that there are a lot of reasons why health departments allow what they allow that aren’t all based on safety, but I recognize that not everybody is on twitter all day.

                  So that’s just to say I don’t know what kind of party the girlfriend was at, maybe it was a no mask bonanza or maybe it was something she thought she was a relatively safe and responsible choice. It’s hard to make good choices on your own when your government is basically telling you to fend for yourself.

                2. Works in IT*

                  My friend, and his boyfriend with heart problems, have been going out to spend time with small groups of friends who have also been maintaining social distancing and isolating at home. I think it’s insane. The boyfriend with heart problems apparently does not. Assuming one’s close friends are taking all the precautions you would take is a common failing.

                3. pancakes*

                  HoHumDrum, I think it’s a big mistake to think “it’s not illegal where I am” = “fine,” and I’d bet you don’t take this approach to other risks you might take with your health. It isn’t illegal, for example, to eat cheeseburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner and smoke 7 packs of cigarettes per day, but it doesn’t follow that doing so is a good idea.

                4. Uldi*

                  Except in this case he already spent time with her before she showed symptoms, so the logical thing to do was what he did: assume he was already infected and quarantine with his gf in hopes of sparing an elderly relative.

                5. HoHumDrum*

                  @pancake Right, I agree with you. I don’t take this approach because I know better. My point is a lot of people don’t know better- which is why I have so much ire for the way government has dropped the ball on this.

                6. JM60*


                  I don’t think it’s insanely reckless to do something your local health department is saying is fine

                  I very much disagree. Unfortunately, health departments (at least in much of the US) are heavily influenced by politics. Health departments allowing something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe.

                7. JM60*


                  Darn formatting issue:

                  I don’t think it’s insanely reckless to do something your local health department is saying is fine

                  I very much disagree. Unfortunately, health departments (at least in much of the US) are heavily influenced by politics. Health departments allowing something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe.

                8. HoHumDrum*


                  I’ll say the same thing I said to pancakes: Yes. I agree with you. But that’s because we know better. Most people don’t.

                  Most people think if the health department says something is safe then it’s fine to do, because that’s what we’re told about the health department and how it works. Not everyone is spending all day on twitter reading headlines, and every area is handling COVID differently so it’s easy to think you’re being safe because you’re following local health guidelines, and unless you’re plugged into a very specific part of the internet you’ll be none the wiser.

                  Which is why I blame the government for completely abdicating responsibility and throwing us all into this chaos.

          3. aebhel*

            Yeah, that was my thought. I’m actually surprised that this is being framed as ‘he deliberately exposed himself to it’. He made a fairly reasonable assumption that turned out to be wrong. That’s different.

            (Also, LW, if you can’t afford to pay him, that’s equally true even if he took every possible precaution and just ended up catching it from someone at the grocery store. It kind of sounds like you’re trying to make him the villain so you can make your financial problem go away without feeling guilty about it, which… like, I get, but it just doesn’t seem to be that clear-cut to me).

          4. Alice's Rabbit*

            The thing is, they did change their routine to spend the weekend together. She lives elsewhere, but stayed with him over the weekend, despite a high likelihood that she was ill.

        2. Nita*

          Yes. The headline of “intentionally exposed himself to COVID” (are those OP’s words?) makes it sound so much more irresponsible than what actually happened. He had good reason to think he had COVID – a significant other who had been exposed, and he was feeling sick himself. Actually, if he was feeling sick, the test could well be a false negative. They’re not 100% reliable…

    1. The Grey Lady*

      I think firing him is an overreaction. Yes, he erred in judgement by not self-quarantining. But he most likely thought he was infected too, so this seems like an honest mistake to me.

      Plus, like someone said above, if OP fires him, are they going to be able to find a suitable replacement quickly enough to keep business running relatively smoothly?

      1. Works in IT*

        I find the subject of this post incredibly misleading. It doesn’t look like he exposed himself intentionally. His girlfriend did expose herself intentionally, but as soon as he realized she was sick with an incredibly contagious, dangerous illness he took all the steps he could to ensure it would be contained.

        1. Ali G*

          No she didn’t even expose herself intentionally. She did not accept an invitation to a party with the purpose of getting sick. She showed bad judgement for sure, but no one in this situation intentionally exposed themselves to COVID. The headline is beyond misleading.

          1. Works in IT*

            Ah, okay, I was reading it as she knew someone who was infected would be there before she went, but on rereading it, she was informed later.

            I’ve seen so many examples in the news the last few weeks of people attending parties with other people who have been mostly isolated for months, and one person ended up being infected and infected everyone. It’s undoubtedly reckless, but they’re certainly being cautious by “only” going to a party with lots of others who are (they perceive to be) as cautious as themselves.

              1. pancakes*

                That’s a malformed perception, though. I don’t doubt it’s a common one, but it’s unconsidered and wrong. It’s nothing more than misplaced and unearned faith in the idea that people who are sick always look or act sick.

          2. Kay Wilk*

            I would have to say that if you are going to a party right now you would be intentionally exposing yourself. Parties are not the same as, say, going to the grocery store, and are not essential right now.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              + 100

              Thank you for that. Gatherings of any kind or size that is not mandatory or essential and requires the presence of a bunch of people you don’t live with and, thus, can’t determine their hygiene practices or safety precautions taken is playing Russian Roulette with your life – it’s not smart.

            2. Shramps*

              Agreed, I thought the consensus right now was that if you go into groups of people (a party) it’s exposure to infection. Non-essesntial activities should be avoided, social distancing and mask wearing is crucial, etc.

              1. Cat*

                I’m not doing either, but given the existence of people who are intentionally going to Covid parties specifically TO expose themselves, I would say we do need to distinguish between normal gatherings and intentional exposure ones.

                Where I am, the governor recently tightened the rules from gatherings of 25 people allowed to gatherings of 10 people allowed. Either could qualify as a party. Again, I am not going to inside gatherings with people outside my household and am social distancing at outdoor ones. But I would have a hard time firing someone for following the governor’s rules.

            3. Ali G*

              It’s wordsmithing at this point. I see it as extremely poor judgement, bordering on stupidity, but no one goes to these parties with the “intention” of getting sick. However they should not be surprised when they do!

            4. Eukomos*

              Intentionally taking a risk is not the same as intentionally exposing yourself to someone you know is sick. Risky behavior is very very stupid in these circumstances, but it’s nowhere near the same ballpark as people going to “COVID parties” to actively attempt to get it like it’s the chickenpox.

            5. Curmudgeon in California*


              I go grocery shopping. I am masked, have a list, and try to keep it short.

              Parties are several hours, in a smaller space, usually indoors, with food and drink, and unmasked. IMO, it is a “covid party” even if it is not declared to be a covid party.

              IMO, same thing with bars and restaurants. While I am sorry that all the wait staff is out of work, I think it’s the height of irresponsibility to go to a bar or restaurant for anything but takeout.

              Until we have a vaccine, full precautions need to be maintained.

              1. justabot*

                Yea, the problem is in states with high rates where the bars and restaurants ARE still open, without restrictions, and staff is required to return to work (or lose unemployment), and even if wearing marks, are exposed to all the irresponsible, risk taking, don’t give an f people who just act like there’s no pandemic going on. But I do completely agree with your post.

              1. Grapey*

                No, because protesting is a constitutionally protected right. Seeing friends at a party is not.

                1. Evan Þ.*

                  Seeing friends at a party is a constitutionally protected right, too – the right to free assembly.

                2. Gumby*

                  Practicing one’s religion is also a constitutionally protected right but I am still watching on Zoom rather sitting in a building with other people.

                  Being a constitutional right doesn’t make something not risky.

                  It could be that individuals decide that the risk is worth it because the activity is important to them. But that doesn’t mean there is no risk.

              2. Shramps*

                Protests are outside and almost all of them are wearing masks, do not compare these two. It is so incredible disrespectful to compare a civil rights protest march to a party!

              3. Diahann Carroll*

                Black woman here, and I absolutely would (and have). Protests aren’t mandatory or essential in the middle of a pandemic no matter how important to social change they may be.

              4. kt*

                Listen, I went to a bunch — and they were outdoors, everyone did their best to stay apart from each other, and almost everyone was wearing a mask. I’m pretty tired of the equivalency drawn by many people: like, I understand, but if her party was outdoors and everyone wore masks and stayed six feet apart, then I bet she wouldn’t have COVID, right?

          3. M2*

            You don’t go to a party during a pandemic people! Especially when you live with an elderly relative! If you go to a large gathering it is said all over the place you must assume you have it and to get yourself tested! A party is not essential! My kids will probably not be able to go to school because people are acting reckless. Parties and bars seem to be more important than getting kids back to school. It’s shameful!

            1. tangerineRose*

              “You don’t go to a party during a pandemic people! Especially when you live with an elderly relative!” So much this!

        2. LunaLena*

          But he did expose himself intentionally – when he spent the weekend with his probably-infected girlfriend. He assumed he already had it anyways, so he made the conscious choice to quarantine with her. It turned out he was wrong and he didn’t have it, but now he might because they spent the weekend together. That’s the opposite of taking all the steps he could to ensure it would be contained. It’s like saying “well this suit is ruined because I got caught in the rain, might as well jump in a pool.”

          To be fair I can understand his train of thought and I realize it’s easy to say “he should have waited for the results” with 20/20 hindsight, but he did, in fact, intentionally expose himself to the virus because he thought it wouldn’t matter one way or the other.

            1. Malarkey01*

              Unless they were also thinking to keep Grandma safe- which it looks like was a real risk here.

              1. SickofCovid2020*

                What I am wondering though is how has she not exposed her grandmother already? Where was she between the party and finding out that someone at the party had tested positive? And how long had that been? 1 day, 3 days, 5 days? Not saying they should expose the grandmother more but I don’t see how she was completely unexposed to begin with.

                1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  I think the read is that the GF didn’t want to go home and *continue* to expose her grandmother, not that she was completely unexposed.

          1. The Grey Lady*

            Well, the thing is, it didn’t matter that much one way or the other. Either way, he has to quarantine. My boss had to quarantine for two weeks simply because she had potentially been exposed to Covid, even though she did not get it.

          2. Ali G*

            It’s easy to Monday Morning Quarterback this guy. I for one would much rather them assume they both have it, than for him to act like he’s fine and potentially exposing others.

          3. blackcat*

            See, I would not at all assume he didn’t have it before hand. Even with the most accurate tests, there’s a false-negative rate of around 5% when you consider errors in test administration (which are high for testing centers where they have people shove the thing up their nose themselves). For many tests, it’s closer to 20%.
            5% sounds small, but that means 1 out of every 20 people who *do* have the virus get a negative test result. That’s significant!

            1. feministbookworm*

              For what it’s worth, my partner (who I live with) had a mild fever and was home pending the results of a Covid test. Even after a negative result she was not cleared for work by her doctor until 10 days after the test, due to the high rates of false negatives. We tried to quarantine from each other as much as possible, and I work from home, but there’s no way that I wouldn’t have insisted on staying home from work myself just based on our proximity pre-symptom onset. It’s pretty likely that he would have been instructed by medical providers to stay home even if they hadn’t spent the weekend together.

          4. Curmudgeon in California*

            He moved his GF in with him, rather than risk her elderly grandma, when he figured they both had it anyway. I don’t see that as irresponsible. Sure, it guaranteed he gets it, but he was operating on the assumption he had it anyway. I worry about his parents, but maybe they can isolate from each other in their home.

            Yes, it sucks that he will not be able to work. But that was what he expected anyway. He took actions to help shield a high risk person. I don’t consider that bad judgement.

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              And honestly, if I was the employee’s parents, thinking both my son and his GF had it? I’d invite her to quarantine with him at our house to help protect her grandma.

        3. JM60*

          TA here is ultimately the girlfriend. Her reckless behavior jeopardized/is jeopardizing the health of grandparents, her boyfriend, his parents, and everyone at his workplace, as well as prolonging the need for measures to slow the spread of this disease (thereby hurting the broader economy). It’s largely because of people like her that the US is doing much worse than most countries.

    2. Save the Hellbender*

      Wait, hold on. He found out his SO was showing symptoms. He made the (fairly safe) assumption that if one of them had it, they both did, so they quarantined together, away from the older folks they lived with. It’s not realistic to expect him to have shelled out for completely separate housing when 1) he thought they both either had it or didn’t 2) that would be considerably more expensive.
      Even if he didn’t stay with her that weekend, his significant other has Covid! He wouldn’t be able to come back to work either way! And it seems like he made the best choices he could, right?

      1. Pommette!*

        The employee lives with his parents, the girlfriend with her grandmother. I’m assuming that no one in this situation is wealthy enough to afford a safe and private self-quarantine locale for two weeks. Sheltering together seems like the most sensible of the solutions available at the time (on the assumption that as a couple, you’re already sharing whatever viruses you might have, and in the hope that infecting a 20-something is less dangerous than infecting an elder). As you say, it’s the best of a bunch of bad choices.

        I have a ton of sympathy for the OP. It’s a bad situation, and there are LOTS of good reasons to be angry (including the lack of support for small businesses like yours, the public health failure that let the outbreak spread like it did, the fact that people are still foolish enough to attend parties…). But none of those things are the employee’s doing.

      2. Jellissimo*

        I would argue that since they don’t live together, it would have been more responsible for them to stay with the people with whom they lived – his girlfriend’s grandmother probably already being exposed since that is where she lives, and she was exhibiting symptoms. I understand the knee jerk desire to fire him and I could argue either side of that decision, but “quarantining together because we assumed we both had it” is not a viable argument – you wanted to take care of your girlfriend, or you didn’t want to risk not being able to see each other for weeks while you really quarantined, or any other justification. It’s not a huge issue, but let’s be honest what the motivation was.

        1. Poochy*

          In her shoes, even if my grandmother had *probably* been exposed, I would want to minimize that exposure. We know that the time and level of exposure can matter a lot, so immediately isolating from the grandmother could actually make a big difference in preserving her health.

          Put another way: The grandmother was *probably* exposed already, but *definitely* would have been if the girlfriend had stayed with her. When dealing with a deadly disease, there’s a big difference between probably and definitely.

          1. The Grey Lady*

            Yeah. No one in their right mind would think, “Well, Grandma’s already showing symptoms, so better hang around and make sure she gets really sick for sure.”

            And Jellissimo, you seem to be implying that the employee simply refused to self-quarantine out of petty selfishness. I think that’s an unfair judgment of the employee. We can’t know his motivation, and it’s very possible that he really did think he was doing the best thing in a crappy situation.

          2. doreen*

            I get that the girlfriend’s grandma would have been at greater risk if the girlfriend stayed with her- but the employee doesn’t have his own apartment. He lives with his parents – so apparently when the couple quarantined together it was at his parents’ home, exposing them. Yes,it’s possible that their home is laid out in a way that this isn’t an issue but that could be the case with grandma’s home as well.

            1. Green great dragon*

              I would assume his parents are considerably younger and/or healthier thank Gf’s grandmother, or it doesn’t make sense (or I guess just possible they could justify the expense of a third place for the two of them to save both sets of parents – the letter’s not clear).

          3. Insert Clever Name Here*

            This is an excellent distinction.

            If I was living with my grandmother, I would quarantine in my *car* before quarantining under the same roof as her.

          4. Quill*

            Also, exposure risk isn’t like a sticker, where you just slap it on, peel it off, and see if it’s left any chunks of nasty sticker paper behind.

            It’s more like having a toddler covered in mud running around your house. The longer that kid is in there, the more likely you are to get stains.

            1. Coder von Frankenstein*

              And the worse those stains are. Even if you’re already infected, you don’t want to be inhaling more of the virus and increasing your viral load. Infection is not an on/off switch.

          5. Lalaroo*

            See, this is where it gets inconsistent for me. So they shouldn’t have assumed the grandmother already had it and had the girlfriend stay there, but they were right to assume the boyfriend already had it and then quarantine together with him and his parents?

            1. Quill*

              Possibly they figured it was more likely that the boyfriend had respiratory secretions in his system prior to her being symptomatic, and that her grandma might not, because she doesn’t make out with her grandma.

              Or possibly she’d spent more time with boyfriend than grandma immediately before testing. Or perhaps she figured that, like a cold, transmission is way more likely once you’re symptomiatic.

              I don’t think they could have won this one regardless of what they picked.

        2. MissGirl*

          I agree with Poochy. If I lived with my grandma and I tested positive, I’d get the f out of there. As we see in this letter exposure doesn’t mean positive. I’d hope like crazy I hadn’t infected her already and move out just in case.

        3. Academic Addie*

          I disagree. There is a real effect of viral load to this illness. It appears that as people take in more of the virus, they’re more likely to get sick and potentially this could impact the length and severity of the illness. If she had it, there are two considerations (a) not exposing new people and (b) not continually exposing people to the illness. Someone is going to get exposed continually unless they can afford a separate dwelling. If someone is going to bathe in the virus, it’s probably better than that is a young, healthy person.

          1. Lalaroo*

            But given this, isn’t it foolish for him to choose to quarantine with her and bring her into his house with his parents?

      3. Kate R*

        Completely agree. I think his GF was reckless in going to the party where they think she got it, but it doesn’t seem to me the employee was being irresponsible with the knowledge he had or that he “intentionally” exposed himself to COVID. My read is that his GF went to a party, then interacted with the employee, then found out someone at the party tested positive for COVID, so the employee reported possible exposure. Then the GF started showing symptoms, so they both got tested and quarantined together, and away from an elderly relative, assuming they would both be positive since they’ve been interacting already. It was irresponsible to attend a party in the first place, but all the choices they made since actually seem fairly responsible to me.

      4. ThePear8*

        Agree, I don’t think it was an unreasonable assumption that he would have had it since his SO did. I have a cousin who tested positive for COVID, and as soon as my family heard about it we all just assumed his daughter had probably caught it too since she was living with him (she did in fact, test positive as well later on). I live with most of my immediate family and if any of them tested positive I’d probably just assume I had it too since I live with and share space with them every day.
        I’d probably be more angry with this employee if his SO had it and he assumed he didn’t since he presumably was exposed to her. So I think his choice to quarantine with her makes sense so they could at least take care of each other while isolating from others.
        Plus, there’s a very high rate of false negatives (and false positives for that matter) in COVID test results, so even though his test came back negative, maybe take it with a grain of salt.
        I know right now it’s an extremely difficult time, especially financially as so many people have been impacted by COVID and it’s certainly very frustrating and stressful. But I think Alison makes a good point – if in any other circumstance, he had still contracted COVID and had to quarantine, the effect on your business would be the same.

      5. Case of the Mondays*

        I agree! I think aside from the party part, they were really responsible here.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          And the party was the girlfriend, who isn’t LW’s employee. Can you fire someone for his girlfriend’s decision making?

          1. Archaeopteryx*

            He should’ve had a more sensible reaction to his girlfriend’s poor decision making, such as not seeing her for two weeks after the party.

            1. Cat*

              Oh, come on. You don’t fire people for not seeing their girlfriend for two weeks after they go to a party. That’s a ridiculous level of policing someone’s personal life.

              1. SickofCovid2020*

                I agree it’s pretty ridiculous to police people’s lives like that but people still don’t get the big picture. Businesses are closing due to the financial impact of this virus. The employee’s decisions regarding his girlfriends actions are having significant financial impacts for his employer. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair that his employer is now facing the possibility of turning away income because their employee’s gf went to a party. There should be ramifications for making dumb decisions like going to a party while this crisis continues. What happened to ‘we’re all in this together’ and taking care of each other? Its not just about wearing masks and using hand sanitizer its about taking the time to think about how your actions will impact the people around you.

                1. Cat*

                  This will not be solved by ramifications to individuals especially since in this case it’s a ramification to the person’s boyfriend. What we need and don’t have is an effective and comprehensive government response.

      6. another Hero*

        Yeah, the fact that they live with older people significantly affects how I feel about his choices. I mean, absolutely don’t go to a party, but quarantining with her away from older relatives was probably the choice that was best for their families, even if it wasn’t the one that would be best for his employer.

        1. another Hero*

          And it was reasonable for him to think he’d test positive, in which case it wouldn’t have mattered to the employer whether he quarantined with his gf.

      7. Stormfeather*

        This is where I fall on it. I wouldn’t call it an irresponsible choice at all. So the girlfriend had COVID, he expected that after being exposed he already had it, and the choice was likely “the two who probably already have COVID bunk up together to quarantine in hopes that she hasn’t already infected her probably-way-more-likely-to-die elderly grandma” or “girlfriend continues to stay with grandma and hey, let’s hope for the best. Sorry if you die from it, grandma.”

        I mean, really what are her other options here? If she’s living with her grandma in the first place, chances are good that other family is already dead or lives elsewhere (and you don’t exactly want to just recklessly infect THEM either even if they don’t), or what’s she gonna do, call up a hotel and say “oh hey, I probably have COVID, can you put me up?” and then eat a two-week or so hotel bill?

        If you absolutely really can’t cover the time off with pay, maybe you could talk to him about taking it without pay (or are there regulations about that? I’m kinda lost with the various legislation in various places at this point TBH)? But as for responsible/irresponsible/bad judgement, I don’t think that’s fair to throw at him at all.

      8. M2*

        CDC guidelines state don’t see people you don’t live with if you believe you have been exposed. So the employee went against CDC guidelines which the employer reminded employee to follow while Under quarantine and waiting for results.

        1. Ann Perkins*

          So he was supposed to say “sorry girlfriend, you have to stay with Nana, I have to make sure I can work?” At the time they were both being tested so they quarantined together while they waited for results to come back. Since he had already been exposed to her by the time she started feeling ill, he should have been quarantining anyway, may as well quarantine together.

        2. Mazzy*

          OK and as I say below, they are probably classist. Do you think working class people living paycheck to paycheck are making those guidelines? Of course not. It’s someone making $150K a month who doesn’t know how much of a financial burden it will be for some people to just go isolate somewhere in a 2nd or 3rd residence for 2+ weeks.

    3. Mazzy*

      These type of responses are very classist. You make it sound like people have multiple residences to hide out in, or that they can go to another wing of the manor. I’ve known people with covid and never thought of calling them out for not sending all of their relatives away. That sounds like something only the very rich would think of, TBH. Someone who grew up working class isn’t even going to think about going elsewhere. I mean, where would the money to pay for it come from? And why would a hotel be so much safer?

      1. Lalaroo*

        But she wasn’t living with him before, she moved in after she was exposed. Blue Eagle isn’t asking anyone to go live anywhere new, so I’m not sure why you’re accusing her of classism.

        1. Mazzy*

          Because expecting someone to go rent a house or hotel for an extended stay in order for everyone to isolate costs alot and some people won’t have the money for it? Like, one of my in-laws got it and her whole family stayed together. They’re pretty paycheck to paycheck and splitting up the family wasn’t an option. But some of my more well to-do relatives got seasonal rentals in the country. It’s definitely a money thing. Unless there is some 3rd option I don’t know here. Surely with how cautious everyone here has been, I doubt you would suggest the GF continue staying with the grandma.

          The framing is also off, this person did not “intentionally get exposed.” They just got exposed.

          1. Always Late to the Party*

            Right; employee’s “choice” may have been (i) potentially expose himself (when he already had been exposed/assumed he had it) or (ii) allow gf to possibly expose her grandma. Blue Eagle’s comment assumes they both had the resources to quarantine alone. Hence, classism.

            1. Mazzy*

              Ok….why are you assuming they have resources to quarantine alone? I hate to be this person fighting for a cause in the comment section, but it’s very obtuse, and I’m waiting for reports to run at work. I have people in my life who can’t afford to just pay $1500 or $2000 for a hotel or 2nd residence because they barely have an emergency fund. This isn’t a hypothetical point. Either someone else pays for it, or we can’t request it.

              1. Lalaroo*

                Honestly this comment is showing that you are not reading comments super accurately right now. Always Late to the Party was agreeing with you, not with me.

                As for other options, there’s: staying with a friend, staying with a different family member, having grandma stay with a different family member, having grandma stay with a friend, quarantining at home if there are two bathrooms, and probably more. I don’t understand why everyone thinks “Moving in with boyfriend and his parents was clearly the ONLY option.” And tbh if my brother moved his COVID-positive girlfriend into the same house as my parents I would be LIVID.

              2. I Agree with Mazzy*

                I agree. My cousin tested positive. She lives in a single-wide trailer with her partner and 3 kids. (So 5 people in a tiny space). Her boyfriend had to keep going to work because if he didn’t he doesn’t get paid and again 3 kids. They don’t have savings for a two-week hotel stay and they don’t have room to quarentine. It is a crappy sitaution but what could they do? They have no nearby relatives or close enough friends that would either let someone who tested positive stay with them and expose their household or let an adult and 3 kids stay and provide appropriate childcare while boyfriend was working. Yes it is a terrible situation but literally what could they do?

                1. Carlee*

                  This is how epidemics are propagated.

                  The partner is responsible for the harm he inflicted on others if he infects them at work.

      2. LunaLena*

        Why do you assume that quarantining requires a separate residence, and not just a separate room? I know someone who had to get tested for COVID due to possible exposure, and she lives with her parents and siblings. She just stayed in her room by herself for two weeks, communicating with her parents by text and talking through the door. Her mom brought meals on trays and left them outside her door, and she made sure to tell everyone she was about to come out if she had to go to the bathroom or leave the trays outside for her mom to pick up. Fortunately her test came back negative, and while it was certainly boring for her to stay in her room by herself, it didn’t kill her.

        I think you’re getting misled by the $150k figure and assuming that the OP is rich and therefore Lucille Bluth “how much could a banana cost? $10?” level of classist, but that’s not necessarily true. The business may make that much, but that doesn’t mean the OP does, because that money includes costs for operations, materials, payroll, insurance, utilities and rent (businesses have to pay rent too!), and other costs of running a business. To give you a real life example, I have a side gig selling small designs on Etsy. A couple of months ago, I did a special order for a customer, for which they paid me $48. Not bad for a few minutes’ work and an extra trip to the post office, right? But the materials – which took me an hour to research to find a good value – cost $25. I also had to buy a special box to ship it in and postage cost another $8. And I have to pay Etsy a transaction fee, listing fee, and processing fee for every sale. After paying all those costs, I actually only made about $8, and most of that will probably go to taxes when I fill out my 1099 next April.

        TL;DR – I think your assumption that the OP is classist or rich is very presumptuous, because you’re assuming you know the OP’s business and profit margins better than they do, and then assuming on top of that that it dictates what kind of people they are.

        1. specialist*

          Yes. It was foolish of him to bring her into his parents’ house. Particularly when it doesn’t seem she is staying with them for the duration.

          There are also many recommendations on how to quarantine when you share living space.

          There are also the various things physicians have been doing to protect their families. One lived in a tree house. Some are in tents in the back yard. Some are in the basement. Some are in the guest room. Many isolate from their families. Some are living in call rooms in the hospitals rather than risk their families. The idea that it is a hotel or nothing is just not valid. There are so many things this employee could have done to handle this situation better than they did.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            But again, all of these things – access for a private/safe yard to camp in, an entire spare bedroom or basement, a frigging adult-size tree house suitable to LIVE in – are hugely dependent on where you live and how much money you have. It is not just about having the ready cash for a hotel stay, it’s about having access to the type of property that HAS a yard, a basement, a guest bedroom, a safe and secure adult-size liveable treehouse. That’s how the classism thing is at play here, the assumption that oh well of COURSE he could have done XYZ because everyone has these things. (And it’s not even purely classism, just not taking variation into account – I make a decent salary but live in a a city where small flats/apartments are the norm. Nobody really has a garden or the apparently ubiquitous treehouse, nobody has a basement, few people have spare rooms, and camping in the local parks is not legal.) I just truly cannot bring myself to say that OP should fire this guy because his girlfriend did not camp in a treehouse.

  3. Herding Butterflies*

    I’m going to roll with Alison on this one. Anyone can get COVID. My husband is an essential employee and I worry about him bring it home. Responsible and careful or not, you can get it. So, you have to look at this event to see if it fits into a pattern of irresponsibility. Or is it a one off thing?

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Yeah, this virus could be anywhere. I have a friend who tested positive last weekend. He and his wife (tested negative) are the most careful people. It’s a shock that he’s the one who has it, because she’s the one who’s been more exposed through work.

      1. ThePear8*

        It really is anywhere. I’m pretty sure my Bf had it near the start of the pandemic (I say “pretty sure” because his test results came back negative, but there’s a high rate of false negatives and the symptoms he had matched up too well, not to mention the timing and we live in a state that has become a COVID hot spot). At this time he had hardly even left his own room, much less his house, so when he got sick it was a real surprise.

    2. Mama Bear*

      For me part of it would be if the employee understands the concern and will fix it or not. If you get tested, you’re supposed to hunker down until you are confirmed negative. Knowing that his GF does things that put people at risk, what is he going to do about that – for himself, for the company, and for your clients?

      What is the situation with the .5 employee? Can they step up in the short term?

    3. Kyrielle*

      Is it even irresponsible? I feel bad for the OP, and the impact on their business, but assuming private quarantine apartments are not a thing, who should they expose who might NOT have it in order to avoid the risks of sharing it between them if they haven’t already, when the latter seems very likely?

      1. Herding Butterflies*

        My bad on that. I thought he had attended the party with the known Covid case……..

    4. justabot*

      100%. I just read how the infection control officer for the Minnesota Vikings tested positive for Covid. The guy who put in all the controls and safe protocols for the team with every resource, every financial benefit, and testing in place, in the most high tech setting.

      Also, the employee quarantined with his girlfriend, assuming he already had it and was asymptomatic. Maybe she shouldn’t have gone to a party, but to say he intentionally exposed himself to Covid is very misleading and firing him seems wrong and extreme.

      It’s crazy how places across the country are so different. At my job, someone’s spouse had symptoms and my employer still made the employee come in every day. And that it’s expected to come into work while you are awaiting your test result unless you yourself are showing symptoms. (Which is sooooo wrong, but it shows the difference – and insanity – in mentality, from one extreme to the next.)

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        And that it’s expected to come into work while you are awaiting your test result unless you yourself are showing symptoms.

        My brother’s former employer (a prison) made him continue to come to work while he was waiting for the results of his test in a state where a third of our infections are in prisons. He could have exposed his other shift workers and the other inmates. Luckily, his test came back negative, and he reported them to the health department before quitting three weeks later for a better paying job in logistics at a major manufacturer.

        1. justabot*

          It’s horrible. The reality is that in some of these deep south states with rising rates, the emphasis is all on the economy and getting people back to work, and not on personal safety or being responsible. What I read on this board and corporate jobs versus what’s going on in the hospitality and food and beverage industries is a different world. There’s no one to report them to – leadership on a city and state level literally do not care. Nor is there any statewide mask mandate. We have had several employees test positive since June and haven’t shut down for one day. And it’s not the best job market to quit a job without a backup plan. You would *think* all business owners would be appalled like the LW, but in many companies in my area, they want employees coming in unless they have symptoms or test positive. My boss doesn’t even think we should bother getting tested unless we have symptoms, even if we fear we have been exposed. Yes, I realize how this sounds – but no one else at work seems to feel this way. The thing is, I really like my job and employers. It’s just a different mentality. And mind boggling to me. I don’t really want to quit but every day I wonder what we are doing and think how this is not okay.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Oh, it’s not just the Deep South – we’re in the midwest. My brother’s new job is a corporate position where he gets to work part-time from home while in training and part-time from the office to get more in-depth training from his supervisor, and he said the treatment is so different. His new employer provides them all with masks (since they make them) – they even mailed him a pack of 100 surgical masks for his family to use. They only have five people in the office on his floor at a time, everything gets deep cleaned the night before work, and there’s plenty of hand sanitizer everywhere (and they sent him home with a bunch on his first day).

            The prison? They didn’t even want him to get tested after they exposed him to the virus. He threatened his manager, who then relented and allowed him to be tested. My brother has a four month old baby at a home and an almost 6 year old, and these people kept making him come back to the unit where he was exposed daily, and barely provided him with adequate PPE.

            I was so glad when he reported their asses. They’re currently being investigated.

            1. justabot*

              That’s so good he got a new role in a safer environment. And good for him for reporting them!!

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        This happened to a family member of mine. Very early in the pandemic, before everything shut down but after it was spreading here, she got sick. It wasn’t too bad, but then she lost her sense of smell. It was so early, there weren’t any available tests in our area for her or her husband. Therefore, without a positive test and no major symptoms, her husband was still required to come in to work.

        He works in a prison. We all see how well that turned out.

  4. sleeklydestination*

    I actually don’t know if I agree that he acted recklessly due to one factor – the elderly grandmother. Obviously this situation isn’t ideal now that he knows he’s negative but I can definitely see how exposing him seemed like less of a risk than further exposing grandma.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      That is something had missed. That definitely reinforces my “warn, keep on” take on it.

      1. Annony*

        I agree. This isn’t a random person, it’s his girlfriend. She was very sick and he didn’t want to leave her to fend for herself and possibly infect her grandmother. I think taking care of your SO when sick isn’t really poor judgement. Definitely have a talk about minimizing risk and that you cannot afford to pay him to quarantine again if he acts recklessly, but I don’t think that there are many other people in his life that he doesn’t live with that he would go so far out of his way for.

        1. Pommette!*

          Yep. There was no “good” option available to the employee here. He picked the least bad one (and maybe helped save his girlfriend’s grandmother’s life in the process), and was honest and upfront with his employer. That’s as good as it gets in this mess we’re in.

          1. Lake*

            This +100.

            Unless I’m not understanding, the OP would have preferred he quarantine away from his girlfriend while waiting for a test he thought would be positive and leaving the gf with the grandmother?

            He and the gf both live with people older than they are who are assumedly more at risk, and he had already been exposed to the girlfriend before she had symptoms, which is when people may be most contagious.

            He did what he could to not expose the people he worked with, then protected the gf’s grandmother. If it were his wife, would you feel the same way?

            OP, I honestly don’t quite get what you see as unreasonable on his part here, unless you’ve seen him be casual and dismissive of the risk in other interactions.

            1. SickofCovid2020*

              I’m not OP but I can see it as unreasonable because the OP has their livelihood to worry about. If they lose enough business due to the employee’s gfs need to party 4 people lose their livelihood.

              Let’s look at the root cause of this and we eliminate the gf going to the party we eliminate the exposure. Yes, you can get covid anywhere but she went to a party. Was a party necessary? It’s not the same as going to the pharmacy or the grocery store or even getting drive thru food. Its a party. Was her grandmother a concern when she was partying and exponentially increasing her exposure risk? She made a bad decision and the employee made the decision to interact with her after said bad decision increasing his exposure risk as well. If it was his wife and she willingly went to a party yes I still would think it was unreasonable.

              I’m not sure I can agree that the employee and his gf quarantining together is so noble when the root exposure was a party the gf willingly chose to attend. Was is the right thing to minimize the grandmother’s exposure yes. But the noble thing would have been if she just STAYED HOME in the first place. Now the OP and their husband, the part time employee, the employee, the gf, the employee’s parents and the gf’s grandmother are all directly impacted by the dang party. 8 people one choice.

              1. EventPlannerGal*

                But none of that has anything to do with whether his post-exposure actions are reasonable or not. Could you explain what you would like him to have done? Not talk about what his girlfriend should or shouldn’t have done – I think she made a stupid, reckless choice too but you can’t change the past – but what specific alternative steps he should have taken?

              2. Annony*

                While I don’t disagree that not going to the party would have been the better choice, we don’t actually know she caught it there. She easily could have caught it on the bus on the way to work or while grocery shopping. How his girlfriend caught it is irrelevant to whether he should be fired.

        2. MissGirl*

          That’s how I fall. I thought this was going to be a case of him doing something reckless like a COVID party, but it doesn’t sound like that. His girlfriend got symptomatic and didn’t want to expose her grandmother. They had been together enough to make the assumption he was already exposed so they agreed to quarantine together. If his test result had been positive, this would’ve been the logical choice.

          I wouldn’t fire him.

          1. boo bot*

            Yeah, I didn’t understand how he “intentionally exposed himself,” unless I misunderstood – he found out he had already been exposed, and made arrangements with his girlfriend to protect her grandmother by quarantining together.

            I don’t think his girlfriend had any business going to a party, especially since she lives with her grandmother, but her behavior isn’t his fault, and once it’s done, it’s done.

            I also think that it’s important to treat this as a virus anyone can get (which it is) and try to resist the urge to investigate or punish people for how they got sick. That’s the kind of thing that can lead to people hiding their status, rather than admit they’ve been exposed, and with something so contagious, we need everyone to be willing to speak up immediately if there’s a chance they might be sick.

            It’s a hard balance, especially when just a few people behaving recklessly can put all of us in danger – I think I come down on the side of, stand up to people when they’re being reckless, but have compassion when they’re sick. And avoid firing people for getting sick in the middle of a pandemic.

    2. Overeducated*

      Yes, I thought of this too. And it’s not a distinction between “exposing himself” and “further exposing Grandma,” it’s between “further exposing himself” and “further exposing Grandma” – he assumed he was already exposed. He just increased the exposure level.

      I would not support firing him because I think that in general, having employment become contingent on employers scrutinizing and approving the details of how people handle their loved ones’ COVID illness is a bad road to go down. This is not a great example of behavior but it’s also not that egregious given the specifics. That said, the financial impact to a small business sounds awful.

      1. PJ*

        I agree with this. He had already been exposed even though he tested negative. And if he tested too early, it could have easily been a false negative, do you want him at work anyway?! His risk level for serious complications is probably less than Grandma’s so for he and girlfriend to quarantine together makes sense. My daughter was in a similar situation but she was the employee. She was exposed at work, and stayed home 24/7 until her test came back negative. That was week 1. Week 2 she went about her business but was then told that she wouldn’t be paid for week 2 because she didn’t stay home 24/7. She did do continuing ed hours during that time but oh well…. She quit. She had a better offer lined up and just hadn’t decided whether or not to take it. The idea that she needed to stay home 24/7 after her test came back negative seemed a little extreme to her.

        1. TiffIf*

          Um…you just cited the possibility of a false negative and then you say “The idea that she needed to stay home 24/7 after her test came back negative seemed a little extreme to her.”

          That is both contradictory and against recommendations.

          This is from my state’s Covid-19 website:

          “If you were exposed to COVID-19 and asked to quarantine, you must finish your 14-day quarantine. Even if you test negative for COVID-19 and don’t feel sick, you must finish the 14-day quarantine. It may take up to 14 days to know if you will get sick. Call a doctor if your symptoms get worse. If your symptoms get worse, you may need to be tested again for COVID-19. You could still get sick with COVID-19.”

          1. actually works in a COVID screening clinic*

            Exactly. This employee may well have COVID despite the negative test and needs to continue to quarantine. I would not clear him to work.

    3. sunny-dee*

      Yeah, the OP is 100% the AH here.

      He quarantined with his girlfriend because (not unreasonably) he assumed he’d already been long-term exposed and could have it and she didn’t want to risk continuing exposure to her grandmother. The grandmother is legitimately vulnerable. You can argue whether the girlfriend should or should not have gone to other social events (though, with the timeline, it doesn’t sound like that’s actually where she got it?) but 1) the employee had nothing to do with that and didn’t go and 2) after she was known to be exposed, she wanted to distance from her grandmother.

      I think the OP is having a strong emotional reaction because of the work / financial pressure and the general uneasiness around covid. But the employee did nothing wrong here.

      1. Tuckerman*

        Agreed. Protecting vulnerable populations (the grandmother) should be the priority. If the girlfriend didn’t stay with the employee and instead risked her grandmother’s safety, people would be criticizing her.

        This is just a rough situation without a lot of good options.

          1. SickofCovid2020*

            Thank you!!!! I’m getting frustrated seeing all the people go ‘they were protecting grandma’. Why couldn’t she protect grandma by STAYING HOME.

            You know how I’m protecting my grandma and my fiance’s cancer survivor mother, canceling my wedding. Not having a party even though we can all stay 6 feet away. Not putting anyone at more risk then they already are.

            But chick just had to party and now potentially 8 people will be negatively impacted.

            1. Evan Þ.*

              But, having made that bad decision, it is better for her to now decide to protect Grandma rather than to decide to continue exposing Grandma.

            2. Mx*

              Going to the party was wrong, but the GF isn’t OP’s employee. The employee shouldn’t be penalised because of his GF.

      2. MayLou*

        If we’re using Reddit terms, I think I would say there are no arseholes here, just frightened people trying to navigate a difficult situation. OP hasn’t fired the employee but wants to get guidance on what to do. There are very few situations like this, it’s not unreasonable to be floundering.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          THIS. Everyone is between a rock and a hard place in this scenario thanks to the employee’s girlfriend.

        2. Malarkey01*

          Really good point! All of us are trying to figure out how to survive a deadly plague while also not losing our homes and businesses. Many of us are just doing the best we can and I think it’s a time for grace and understanding when possible (unless you are running around a Costco maskless screaming about your rights- then you are forfeiting grace).

        3. tangerineRose*

          “there are no arseholes here, just frightened people trying to navigate a difficult situation” Yes.

        4. SickofCovid2020*

          Disagree. The girlfriend is definitely the AH for going to a party. Now everyone else has to suffer.

      3. The New Wanderer*

        Disagree – the girlfriend went to a *party* which is a pretty well known Covid risk while living with her grandmother. The girlfriend put her own relative at risk and continued to put her boyfriend at risk while waiting for test results. I get that she wants to distance from the grandmother now (and the boyfriend is assuming known risks by quarantining with her), but her earlier actions don’t indicate a great level of care about exposure risks until she confirmed she had it.

        OP is not TA for considering whether her employee poses too great a risk to the business. However, I agree with Alison overall that if the business can’t withstand the loss of one employee for 2 weeks, it is not in a viable position and the specifics of this case are irrelevant.

        1. Anononon*

          But we’re not discussing the actions of the girlfriend,but the actions of the boyfriend. Because she acted irrationally and recklessly, her grandmother should be put in danger?

          1. The New Wanderer*

            I’m not saying that at all, although I got a little hung up on the girlfriend issue and lost the thread for a minute.

            I’m saying I disagree that OP is being TA for feeling like this is a tough situation to be in (and MayLou said it way better than me above).

        2. Smithy*

          Employers trusting the overall trustworthiness of an employee due to the actions of family/friends is really wild.

          My mother is taking COVID precautions very seriously, with one exception. She’s still seeing my brother in her home and in his even though he and my sister-in-law aren’t taking the same level of precautions. There are a few friends who’s homes they’ll visit, they’ve gone to a few restaurants, etc. They’re not going bars or amusement parks (that are also open where we live), but their level of precaution is different. However, for my mom to stop seeing my brother would be intensely isolating and miserable for her as would dictating how he and his wife live their lives.

          Employers acting this way are being TA because ultimately it teaches all employees to share as little health and personal info as possible.

      4. Lucy P*

        Although I’m siding with the employee, I won’t call the OP an AH. Employers are stressed to the max right now, particularly small employers.
        They came here seeking advice. Regardless of what their question was, I don’t think an honest answer needs name calling to go along with it.

      5. Temperance*

        Actually, yes, this IS the employee’s fault and OP isn’t TA. His girlfriend made a reckless, stupid choice to go to a party while living with a senior citizen. That was 100% on her. OP’s employee, knowing that his girlfriend makes these choices, spent time with her.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I think I’m here. My housemate’s girlfriend is not the sharpest crayon in the mixed metaphor and cannot be trusted to socially distance appropriately, so he hasn’t seen her since February because he doesn’t trust her risk assessments and isn’t comfortable letting her anywhere near our house. So she can put herself at all the risk she wants and he doesn’t have to let that impact him.

            1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

              I was really glad he came to that decision on his own and I didn’t have to play the Landlord card.

        2. Anononon*

          I’m sorry, but when the employee made a choice that could literally mean life or death for his girlfriend’s grandmother, I’m not going to fault him too much. Are you going argue that OP’s business is more important than the grandmother’s life? Because that is literally the decision that the employee had to make.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            I’m not gonna fault him for that (I probably would have made the same one in his place since I have a soft spot for children and the elderly) – I also wouldn’t have faulted him if he told his girlfriend to stay at her grandmother’s house during quarantine and try to avoid her as best she could since she made the dumbass decision to go to a party in the middle of a pandemic, completely disregarding the fact that she lives with someone who could very likely die if she caught this virus.

          2. Temperance*

            Wow. To start, we have no way of knowing whether it was literally between staying with her boyfriend and killing Grandma. I mean, girlfriend went to a party, so we already know that she’s irresponsible and doesn’t care about her grandparent.

            1. Cat*

              This is a stunningly wrong comment and precisely the kind of inhumanity I wouldn’t expect to see here.

      6. AnotherSarah*

        Yes–assuming the gf’s two options were to keep exposing grandma and to keep exposing partner, she (and the employee) chose better. The employee assumed previous exposure, and that was a completely reasonable assumption. The gf shouldn’t have attended that party, but plenty of people have gotten Covid-19 without attending parties. This sucks for the OP, for sure! But everyone’s making due in terrible circumstances right now.

      7. Mazzy*

        So, what would you have done? Name calling is easy but there are already 450 comments and I’m not seeing any solutions from people who are not on the OP’s side.

    4. KR*

      Yeah, maybe I have my timelines messed up but I saw this as the girlfriend had a choice after she found out she was exposed – further expose grandma or expose her boyfriend or not have a place to sleep (while having COVID). Seems like a rock and a hard place for everyone involved.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Yeh, and as someone said above – it’s *further* expose bf or further expose grandma. If she’d been kissing her boyfriend but not her grandma, say, it’d seem very likely pre-test that the employee already had it but that grandma might not.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, mouth to mouth contact, respiratory illness… I’d assume he was infected too!

    5. Perfectly Particular*

      I completely agree – they were trying to do the right thing by protecting grandma, and he thought he already had it. Further, he was forthcoming and thereby protected the rest of your business. He could have been out much longer if he did actually have it, or the outcome could have been worse if you or your husband was exposed. I am wondering though, if he is really not able to work at all. You said that it is field work – does he need to interface with anyone to do it, or is it just him & his truck? Alternatively, could he take over any of the responsibilities of you, your husband, or the other employee from home to free one of you up for the field work?

      1. Sam.*

        I agree. It’s not great, but I do think he was trying to make the best decisions he could based on the information available to him at that time. And the fact that he was honest about it should win him some points, I think. It would’ve been pretty easy to justify to himself, “Well, I tested negative, so there’s no need to tell OP about this,” and put even more people at risk.

      2. JSPA*

        He’s not responsible for his girlfriend being irresponsible, in going to the party.

        He’s not responsible for his girlfriend trying to be responsible, in not wanting to give it to her grandmother.

        I’d consider both of the following unknown and/or speculative:

        a) We don’t strictly know that he doesn’t have Covid (there are plenty of false negative results, especially if someone’s been exposed very recently). How would you look at this differently, if he’d been RIGHT about both being infected?

        b) We don’t know (and it’s not our business) if he’s the only person the GF could have lived with, besides her grandma.

        c) I’m not at all sure that it’s helpful in any way to make the decision while thinking of it being a BF-GF situation or a “choosing to get infected” situation. ((t may help to think about what you’d do it it had been his sister who started feeling iffy, and if that theoretical sister got sick after working at the food bank.)

        Because being together may have been self indulgent, or it may have been self-sacrificing, or it may have made totally good sense, from a neutral point of view. So set all that aside. (Coming back so soon on bad advice, however, is bad advice. He’s only just been exposed. The incubation period clock doesn’t start with the first moment of exposure; it starts with the last moment of exposure. Don’t buy it.)

        Regardless of motivations, you are not somehow required to underwrite his decision to make his space the space where the GF gets support while sick, and helps her get away from the risk of infecting grandma.

        But at minimum, giving him the benefit of the doubt for believing he was already infected, and thus letting him claim unemployment support on that basis, makes sense. Hiring him back (or at least, not marking him “do not rehire”) also makes sense to me, as does as good a recommendation letter for some other job, as you’d otherwise have given him.

        If you resolutely believe that your business has not suffered under Covid in a general sense based on just one metric, but your ability to make payroll is suffering because you have to cover extra leave, you need to reconsider how you think about that (and whether you could be and should be and probably are eligible for governmental relief). If you’ve only calculated as far as, “we have as many jobs as ever” without counting in the extra costs, it’s time to do that calculation!

        1. actually works in a COVID screening clinic*

          The critical piece here – he may well actually have COVID – we don’t actually have the timing here, but false negative tests are relatively common in this setting — our clinic would recommend that he continue to quarantine

    6. BethRA*

      I was thinking the same thing – in his shoes I might have done the same thing to protect my partner’s grandparents. It’s not like he went to a “COVID” party – he did take the virus seriously! He got tested and planned to hunker down with his GF.

      And I get that letting him take paid leave to quarantine would put a serious hurt on OP’s business, but what message are you sending to your other employee if you punish the guy for being honest?

    7. A Genuine Scientician*

      Strong agree.

      The girlfriend didn’t want to risk getting her grandmother who she lives with sick, so she is instead living (temporarily) with her SO, who is your employee.

      Your employee is not behaving recklessly. He *is* at less risk than her grandmother is.

      Also, you are a small employer. Isn’t your employee covered by the Covid sick leave law that he gets 2 weeks of paid sick leave because he is quarantined following medical orders and unable to work during it? This sounds an awful like “I want to fire someone because they got sick, even though there are legal protections granting them sick leave”.

      You’re assuming that she got sick from the party. You don’t actually know that she did. She might have gotten it from the grocery store, or the pharmacy, for all you know.

      Don’t punish your employee for them being honest and following medical directives.

      1. Lawyer Cat*

        THIS. Not only are you required to pay him for 80 hours of sick leave under the FFCRA while quarantining, if you fire him for having COVID, good luck with the additional ADA lawsuit.

        As an aside, on a human level, you are 100% TA for being angry (and considering firing him) because he prioritized keeping his girlfriend’s elderly grandma alive. Especially considering he was already exposed and COVID tests have a 20-80% false negative rate depending on when in the course of infection the test is done. He could have completely quarantined from her the second after they got tested and he 1. Probably still would have it and 2. Should have been quarantined and PAID for two weeks regardless.

    8. sofar*

      Exactly. Lots of people have imperfect situations. And, unless our government steps in and pays everyone to stay home for two months (and pays small business owners to stay closed), and offers free quarantine hotels for people who are positive, people are going to make imperfect decisions.

      It is TOTALLY understandable the GF wouldn’t want to live with her grandmother after testing positive for COVID. And, while I get LW’s frustration, nobody else they hire is going to be living in a bubble and acting perfectly (whatever “perfectly” even is in these days). What if LW hires someone whose child tests positive (is that employee supposed to move away from their child)? What if LW hires someone whose spouse is in the medical industry (and exposed constantly)?

      FWIW, in LW’s employee’s shoes, I would NOT have disclosed all that background to my employer. Just that my girlfriend tested positive, I had tested negative and leave it at that.

      Anyone LW hires is going to likely make decisions (out of necessity, sometimes) that “seep into their business and going to have a huge financial impact.” It’s a pandemic of a highly contagious disease. That’s how diseases work.

      My husband closed his business forever during COVID and, while it sucks, I’m glad we don’t have to deal with all the personnel issues small business owners now have to deal with (keeping people safe, hoping they’ll be honest about exposure, and having to wrestle with paying everyone fairly — my heart goes out to LW as well as the employee).

    9. Koala dreams*

      Yes, that’s my thinking too. He didn’t expose himself out of recklessness, but out of caring for a vulnerable elderly person. I don’t know how much the decision to move after getting sick protects the grandma, but I can see the reasoning. (Also, the girlfriend might need care from him if she has a bad case, I hope not but you never know.) In these times, we have a responsibility towards society, and not just our work. It’s important to keep physical distance between grandparents and grandchildren.

      People try to do their best with limited knowledge (and limited resources), and sometimes that’s not what’s best for the business. However, we can’t allow business needs to overrule the human need.

      1. SickofCovid2020*

        Not overrule it but I definitely think we need to start considering what the business needs actually are. This isn’t a mega conglomerate this is a very small employer who’s currently struggling and probably very worried how they will provide for their family in this uncharted territory. In this case the business need is a human need and the business provides for at least 4 people.

    10. Kiki*

      Yeah, I’m honestly really surprised that so many people feel so strongly that he should be fired! In my view, the boyfriend didn’t really act irresponsibly? I think it was pretty clear that he was trying to act responsibly and protect his girlfriend’s grandma and his parents, knowing there was a strong likeliness one or both of them have it. He also kept his workplace informed of his situation and fully disclosed everything he had been exposed to and the level or risk.
      I definitely don’t think OP is an asshole for considering firing them– tensions are high right now– but I think they would be an asshole if they did fire them. The employee acted in the way he thought was best for his family unit and helped protect his girlfriend’s grandmother from further exposure. If this letter were coming from a place where the government stepped in and offered free access to quarantine hotels and stuff like that, I’d feel differently, but in the US peoples’ options are all imperfect unless you’re wealthy.

      1. pancakes*

        It isn’t that the usage of hotels for quarantine in places like Australia and Singapore is magically free; it’s that leadership in those places consider them a worthwhile investment. The US defense budget alone is higher than that of the next eleven nations after us on the list combined. This isn’t a lack of wealth issue — it’s a priorities issue.

        1. Kiki*

          I didn’t say that the hotels for quarantine were magically free, I said a place where “government stepped in and offered free access to quarantine hotels.”. And I said “options are all imperfect unless you’re wealthy,” not that the US lacks the wealth or resources to have done things other countries have done to actually manage COVID. I don’t disagree with your comment at all; I just feel like you think you’re telling me something new when I already know that and didn’t imply otherwise in my comment.

          1. pancakes*

            I wouldn’t have counted on us agreeing at all. I’m still not quite seeing it, since the people making use of quarantine hotels in places where those are more widely used than the US aren’t necessarily wealthy!

            1. PhysicsTeacher*

              But, those people don’t have to be personally wealthy because their government has decided to make an investment in the public health in that way.

              In the US, because the government has not done that, personal wealth is much more of an issue. Jeff Bezos, if he’s exposed, has no excuse not to isolate completely because he has the resources to do so. Somebody making $10 an hour at McDonald’s who shares a 2 bed 1 bath apartment with a partner and a roommate doesn’t have the resources to isolate completely.

              National wealth is different than personal wealth.

      2. pancakes*

        Also want to add, I’m not sure where you’re seeing so many people arguing in favor of firing the guy. I’ve only seen a couple comments that recommend it. The vast majority are opposed to firing him.

    11. RB*

      Yes, you have to take the lesser of the two risks when you are faced with a situation like that and he made the better choice, assuming there was nowhere else for the girlfriend to stay while she waited for the test results. Imagine how she would have felt if she had transmitted it to her grandmother! When you have to choose between contaminating a high-risk person and a low-risk person, you choose the low-risk person, all other things being equal.

  5. Akcipitrokulo*

    It was arguably stupid to spend time together before results – but not completely unreasonable to assume that two people living in close proximity would either both be positive or both be negative.

    I think a strong talking to and letting him know he MUST follow all protocols would be ok, but I wouldn’t let him go over this. Letting him know it is such a big deal you considered it could help drive message home.

    1. Alex*

      Any country that is taking this remotely seriously is requiring close contacts of those who test positive to isolate for 14 days for the combination of this reason and the fact that the virus isn’t detectable by the current tests for a significant period after infection. On the basis that it is most likely that one partner would catch it from the other partner rather than them both catching it from the same 3rd party allowing people back to work following a negative test immediately after their partner becomes symptomatic is simply reckless, so he may well have believed that he would be told to stay away from work for 14 days in any case, and on this basis that it didn’t matter whether he was continuing to spend time with his girlfriend.

      1. Lalaroo*

        Any country that is taking this remotely seriously is also not leaving it completely up to the employer to pay for those 14 days.

    2. Anonys*

      I totally agree. I think there were instances where the employee and his girlfriend behaved recklessly (such as her attending a party), but I don’t think the quarantining together was one of them. If the girlfriend is in the employees quarantine bubble and they see each other and kiss, are intimate etc, I think it’s not unreasonable to assume “Whatever she has, I probably already have too” and to want to quarantine together rather than apart (and away from her elderly grandmother).

      Right at the beginning of the pandemic, my roommate’s boyfriend was a contact person of someone at work who was diagnosed with Covid. Per our country’s protocols, he had to self-isolate for two weeks (though he did not get a test as he had no symptoms – those were the rules here at the time). She went into quarantine with him at his place, even though she technically wasn’t required to (as she was not a contact person). But she assumed that if he did have an (asymptomatic) Covid infection, there was a good chance she would have it too, and she didn’t want to put us in any further danger.

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      Actually on rethinking I’m even more on the “not reckless” side.

      They could reasonable assume that they would have same results, so being together was minimal risk.

      Her being with her grandmother would place grandmother, who is more at risk due to age, in danger.

      So they did right thing.

  6. RagingADHD*

    I would say you need to fire him because you don’t trust him. You say “allegedly” his doctor told him he can return to work. There are other areas where you strongly suspect he may be lying to you.

    You can’t work with people you think are lying, especially when those lies involve the safety of your family and your other employees. Even if nobody in your business gets sick from this guy, the lack of trust will poison your relationship with him going forward.

    1. Save the Hellbender*

      I think that’s reading a lot into the word “allegedly.” OP could’ve said that because she’s upset, or because she is skeptical that that’s a good recommendation. Or the employee feels like he’ll be fired if he can’t come back to work, so he’s bending the truth (in which case the problem is that OP’s business hinges on one person and this is a global pandemic)

    2. lost academic*

      You can ask that he get a letter from his doctor saying he can return to work. That’s an easily solvable part of this.

    3. Grey*

      I can’t see why he’s untrustworthy. He’s been completely honest about everything so far, even though he had motive to lie.

      1. RagingADHD*

        I don’t know that he is untrustworthy in reality.

        But if OP perceives their one whole employee out of 1.5 as someone who can’t be taken at their word, that’s a major relationship problem with 2/3 of their workforce.

        And if OPs response is, “no, I do trust him, that would be an overreaction,” then the exercise clarified their thinking in a useful way.

        1. RagingADHD*

          It’s the “nannycam” principle.

          If you start to wonder if maybe you need to monitor your nanny, don’t buy a nannycam. Just go ahead and get a new nanny.

          Because if you dont trust this person, there is too much at stake to waste time testing them, and whatever proof you get, even if it shows no problems, will not rebuild that trust in your mind.

    4. Jessica Fletcher*

      I agree. If his doctor did say that, it’s because she doesn’t know he’s now living with a positive person and isn’t isolating her. The CDC guidelines say that after exposure to a positive case, you should isolate for 14 days (and ideally should get tested again, in this situation). If his doctor knew he’s been exposing himself to her every day, the doctor wouldn’t recommend he go back to work before he quarantined from the most recent date of exposure (which is like, every day).

  7. Esme*

    I don’t think he did anything wrong. He didn’t deliberately expose himself – he assumed he probably already caught it. It’s basically impossible to quarantine from a partner if you don’t have separate everything (bathrooms etc). I think you’re overreacting to be honest. I would have assumed I had it in his shoes.

    1. Esme*

      It’s also not his fault you don’t have a plan for paying someone in this situation.

      I’m genuinely surprised that people still haven’t planned for things like this at this point!

      1. The Grey Lady*

        I’m assuming that this is the first time OP’s business has been through something like this, so it’s making them keenly aware of what they are missing–as is the case for many businesses right now. But I agree that it’s not the employee’s fault if no set plan is in place for this. To me it seems like OP is (understandably) stressed out and is looking for someone to take out their frustration on.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          But this virus has been a thing now for seven months. I think Esme’s thinking is, why was there no contingency and business continuity plan put into place anytime between March (when many businesses in the U.S. began sending people home) and now?

          1. Pommette!*

            OP and her partner may simply not have the resources available to support any real contingency plans at this point. Small businesses often run on slim margins at the best of times, and times have been historically bad since March.

            I don’t think that the employee did anything wrong, and I don’t think that he should be fired, or that there is any reason to be mad at him… but I do sympathize with the OP. What a difficult and scary situation to be in, for everyone involved.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Well, if they don’t have the resources for a contingency plan, then they won’t survive and should probably pack it in as harsh as that sounds. As Alison said, at any point in time, the two employees working for OP could have come down with anything – not even COVID – or get injured or have some other personal crisis that would take them out of work for weeks. How would they have addressed this, especially if both people were gone at the same time? If OP and her husband can’t plan around something like that, I’m not sure their business was sustainable in the first place and OP’s frustration is misplaced.

              1. WellRed*

                I feel like if two weeks salary is going to put them under, they are in rough shape either way.

                1. SickofCovid2020*

                  From my reading it yes the 2 weeks salary will be difficult but something they can do. But what I got from the letter was that business would be lost due to the employee not being there.

                  If you have a shoe shine business and the shoes keep coming but no one to shine them you’re going to lose revenue on top of that 2 week pay.

              2. Pommette!*

                I agree that the OP’s frustration is entirely misplaced! There are lots of things to be angry about (including what could be argued were inadequacies in public health responses to Covid and in financial support for small businesses). None are the employee’s fault!

                And you’re right that this business was not run in a sustainable/resilient manner. The questions and planning process you outline in your other comments all make sense, and sound like things that businesses should have been considering.

                So I’m not disagreeing with the substance of your comments… It’s just that as someone who would NEVER want to deal with the stress and uncertainty inherent in running a small business, I find it easy to sympathize with the OP, given the scary and potentially disappointing situation they must be facing.

              3. SickofCovid2020*

                What do you suppose they do once they just pack it in? Yeah they may be able to recover some capital if they can sell off some assets but when that’s gone how is OP going to feed their toddler?

                Sometimes in small business they have to scrape by because there are no other options. They’re allowed to be frustrated. They’re allowed to be scared. They’re people too. That’s what they came here for some help and direction and for the most part I see people calling them AH because they probably are concerned how they will pay the bills.

          2. MistOrMister*

            To be fair, Covid has not really been a “thing” in the US (where I am assuming OP is) for 7 months. Things didn’t start getting taken seriously here until March. And I can’t imagine that it’s easy to revamp your business plan to include a pandemic no one was expecting. Plus, OP said their business has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars already. It seems like the money is not really there to support the quarantine leave. I don’t blame OP for that. Sure, they’ve had months to try to get things in place, buy if they are bleeding money, that’s not super easy to stop. It’s easy to say someone needs a plan, but when your busines is taking a hit and your plan requires money, what are you to do?

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              I’m sorry, but as I stated above – businesses began sending people home here in the U.S. since March. I’m aware that many businesses, even large ones, failed to factor a global pandemic into their business continuity plans – if they even had such a plan to begin with.

              But as business owners, it is OP and her husband’s job to have sat down when this all started spiraling back in March and ask themselves the tough questions: can we survive if both of our employees catch this virus and need to be quarantined for two weeks? Would we be able to keep paying their salary in full, or would we need to make cuts? Do we need to apply for a disaster loan to offset costs in the event that one of us gets sick and has to shut down and then just give the money back later if no one gets ill and we don’t use the funds? Could our employees continue their fieldwork if they are exposed to or contract this virus if we keep them away from customers and give them masks, gloves, and face shields? Etc.

              I get that this virus is ever evolving and no one is going to have a 100% fool proof plan in place, but it sounds like OP and her husband had no plan at all, which is problematic as hell since we’ve now been in the thick of this for four months.

              1. Archaeopteryx*

                Yes, it’s been the law that people need to let their employees quarantine and such for a very long time now, even in the US, so if a business owner hasn’t even thought about what would happen in that case and doesn’t have any kind of back up plan, that’s kind of up to them relying on wishful thinking at this point.

              2. Hopefully not the asshole*

                OP here. I’d like to ask if you are a business owner? If not, I do not expect you to understand the intricacies of running a small business during a pandemic with very little government support. If you are and are successful, teach me your ways! I’d love to hear how you have done and what we could do better.

                We do have plans in place and have since March. We closed our business doors for nearly two months in accordance with our local guidelines. After that we implemented all of the CDC recommendations into our routines. We did get disaster money – it did not nearly cover our losses either in terms of the business we simply lost or the expenses we had from jobs where we had purchased materials that later cancelled – we are still hundreds of thousands down from where we need to be. I never said that paying this employee will bankrupt us – you are right we definitely have issues if that is the case.

                We were prepared for one our employees to get sick – and we knew we would have to pay them. That was not news. When we sent the employee for testing, we knew this was a possibility and we were not mad. If we remove all of the “whataboutisms’s in this case – our reaction is based solely on the facts. He tested negative, she tested positive, they did not quarantine or isolate as required by our health department or as expected by us. Even if the employee had said “look, we are quarantining together because x reason” it would have gone a long way toward our reaction being different.

                For what it’s worth – a portion of our business is event production. Which is likely not going to rebound until 2022. I don’t think there is a business in my industry whose long term pandemic plans included two years of ZERO income.

                I appreciate your point of view, your comments, and that you took time to give some advice to a very stressed out business owner.


                1. Diahann Carroll*

                  I’m a former insurance person, so risk management is my thing and is why I’m perplexed as to why you didn’t start planning once the landscape became clear about what you said. I sympathize with your situation – lots of people are in it – but while you were shut down, that would have been a perfect time for you and your husband to think about some of the things I listed above especially the parts about how you could still potentially keep your business open if employees get sick, but they’re out in the field. With event production, it’ll be a bit more tricky, but could you move to assisting others in online events? Do you guys have a plan in place NOW for what you’re going to do if six months from now, either one of your employees falls ill or moves on to another position because your business isn’t seeing any income?

                  If you don’t have any clue what to do, I strongly suggest you reach out to whoever your business insurer is and ask if they can connect you all with someone in their risk department that can help walk you guys through a plan. And if your insurer is a small one and doesn’t have those resources, look into your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they have any suggestions for who you all could speak to.

                2. Cat*

                  I get it, OP, but your employee also isn’t responsible for the government’s failure to respond effectively to this Pandemic. Maybe he didn’t make the 100% most optimal choice – certainly he didn’t for his business. But how bad was the choice really given that individuals, like businesses, have few good options right now?

                3. your business is not a defense*


                  Quick tip; being a “small business owner” does not exempt you from criticism of your business decisions and the actions you’ve taken.

                  Are you willing to deal with the criticisms and negative publicity you’ll receive after firing this employee? Will the lost business from that be better for your business be more or less than the lost business from a worker being out for a week or two? Will the Glassdoor review of your business that stops you from getting qualified candidates in the future be worth it?

                4. 2020storm*

                  I’m in the camp of others who agree that your employee didn’t do anything fireable, and this situation just sucks.

        2. ZeldaFitz*

          Also, what if someone just came down with a serious illness, non-COVID related? Can they genuinly not afford to pay for someone for a period of a few weeks? That’s not the employees’ fault. People get sick, need time off, etc. You can certainly fire people when they do, but YTA if you do.

          1. SickofCovid2020*

            I don’t know where you are at but in the US you typically are allotted a set number of sick days which your employer will pay you for. Some places I worked you could roll unused days into a bank. My current employer give us 14 sick days to use through the calendar year. Beyond that you have vacation time and other PTO time. If someone were to come down with a long term illness requring months of recovery there are government programs in place such as FMLA which is unpaid and Disibility insurance which is paid.

            1. ZeldaFitz*

              I’m in the US. A lot of places, especially among white collar workers, have paid sick leave, but it’s not mandated. You can 100% fire someone for being sick in most cases in a small business, so long as it’s not a legally defined disability in circumstances that would go against ADA.

              1. Natalie*

                Businesses of this size are exempt from the ADA and most locally mandated paid sick time, anyway.

      2. aebhel*

        Yeah, that. It would be equally a problem for the business if he’d been completely, 100% responsible (which almost nobody is, TBH, including the LW if she’s bringing her kid to work with her now). It’s a pandemic. People are going to get sick. Businesses need a plan for dealing with it that isn’t just hoping magically nobody who works there gets exposed and firing them if they do.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Well … he doesn’t live with his girlfriend so it’s certainly not impossible to quarantine from a girlfriend who doesn’t live with you. (Everyone’s relationship is different, but I’d expect partners to be cohabitating so that seems slightly inaccurate term to me in this case.) If fact that’s the actions you are supposed to take when we’re all in the “stay-at-home” phase and when you are isolating. GF decided to isolate away from grandmother (whom she lived with and was presumably already somewhat exposed) and with BF (whom she presumably swapped body fluids with but didn’t live with). it kind of makes sense, but GF could have isolated at home but away from Grandmother or somewhere else where she wasn’t with boyfriend.

      Overall BF and GF made a logical decision based on what they knew, but it turns out to have been the wrong one once you find out she was infected but he wasn’t already infected.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        This, especially the part about the employee and his girlfriend not actually living together prior to their decision to quarantine together. People are commenting as if the employee had no choice but to stay around the girlfriend when that isn’t actually the case because they have two separate residences.

        1. Polling at 1%*

          But in her residence there is an elderly woman who is much more likely to die. They chose to put her health first.

          1. Tex*

            The girlfriend went to a party where she thinks she contracted the virus. So, no, I don’t think Grandma’s health was top priority.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Exactly. If she was so concerned about her grandma, she should have stayed her ass home to begin with.

              1. Cat*

                And yet she didn’t, so I guess Grandma should just die because of that? Maybe Grandma should have had the foresight to raise her kid to raise a more responsible kid!

                1. Diahann Carroll*

                  No, but maybe the solution is grandma goes to stay with the employee and his parents while the girlfriend rides it out at home. The employee didn’t say his parents were exposed and needed to be tested, so there was possibly enough room in the house for the adults to steer clear of the employee while he quarantined.

                2. Cat*

                  Seriously? Now you think the OP should inquire into the precise details of how big the employee’s house is and how plausible it is to quarantine his parents and his girlfriend’s grandfather within it?

                  The comments on this post are seriously wild.

                3. Diahann Carroll*

                  @Cat Again, you are making statements that I did not make. Nowhere did I say OP should make those inquiries – my comment was from the perspective of the employee and his risk assessment since he’s the subject of this current thread, not OP.

                4. Cat*

                  The center of this thread is whether the OP should fire the employee. If you want to argue whether this guy is the platonic ideal of a decisionmaker in the abstract, that’s going to be interpreted as having something to do with the question posed by the letter.

                5. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  @Diahann except they decided to quarantine together *after* testing, but *before* results on the assumption they would both test positive.

                6. AVP*

                  If it was HIS grandma, sure, but I’m married and I still think it would be weird if my husband’s grandparent came to live with me without him around. Honestly, I think the girlfriend shouldn’t have gone to the party (but that’s not our concern, she is not an employee) and they made a pretty rational decision in a wide set of unknowns. It turned out not to be the most optimal for OP’s business, but, that’s what you get in America right now. No one’s business is optimal, and we are trying our best to preserve human life at the expense of business wherever possible. And frankly this is a new concept for many of us!

                  It seems like it would also not be in OP’s interest to fire the employee, since he’s hard to replace and they’d have to turn down even more future work, so they probably shouldn’t fire him but take this opportunity to lay out expectations going forward, have a serious conversation about how repeated exposures may damage his longterm interests (if the company has to keep turning down work and can’t pay him, that’s also not optimal), and move on.

                7. EventPlannerGal*

                  @Diahann Caroll – and if it had turned out that OP’s employee DID have covid, then we have three older adults in one house with an infected person, and one infected person entirely alone? Fantastic. This level of surmise about OP’s employee’s girlfriend’s grandma’s living arrangements seems really absurd to me; what’s done is done and the issue again hand is whether he should get fired for it.

            2. Butterfly Counter*

              So once she made the decision to go to the party, Grandma’s out of luck?

              “Sorry Grandma, apparently making a bad decision once means I have to keep exposing you to a deadly virus because once I’m on this course, I have to keep making bad decisions!”

              1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                “Whoops, this stove I just touched is hot. Guess I better just burn off my hand.”

                1. Cat*

                  That’s literally the worse analogy I’ve read on this site, and that’s saying something.

                2. Insert Clever Name Here*

                  @Cat I was attempting to satirize the comments about “apparently she doesn’t care about grandma because she went to a party one time” but apparently I’m as bad at satirizing comments today as I am at typing when sharing a screen.

            3. Insert Clever Name Here*

              People are allowed to change their minds when their situations change, ESPECIALLY in cases where you realize “sh*t, I made a horrible decision, how am I going to mitigate this.”

          2. Diahann Carroll*

            And that’s great and thoughtful – and it was still a choice, one he didn’t have to make.

            1. Cat*

              So he totes deserves to be deprived of his livelihood for that. Obvs. Seriously, what are you arguing here?

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                I’ve not once said anywhere on this thread that the employee needs to be fired – stop it. What I and others are saying is that this narrative of him absolutely having to be around his girlfriend after he knew she tested positive is not accurate – he could have made other choices, but chose to quarantine together. (And I even said a few posts above that I probably would have made the same calculation in his shoes since I have a soft spot for children and old people.)

                1. Cat*

                  We’re not saying it’s 100% obvious that he had no other choice. We’re responding to a question about whether he should be fired for the choice he made. In that context, nitpicking about the choices he made suggests one of two things: (1) he could have made other choices so he should be fired for the one he made; or (2) his employer should basically put him on trial about whether his choice was reasonable.

                  Alison suggested he “intentionally” exposed himself to coronavirus and that his employe should be very very angry at him. The comments here are suggesting that there were probably good reasons for what he did. We don’t know the exact layout but nothing in this situation suggests he’s equivalent to someone who went to a coronavirus party at Disney World.

      2. Works in IT*

        I’m… still not so sure he’s not infected. With all the stories about false negatives being reported, one negative test result isn’t enough to say for sure that he doesn’t have it.

        1. Quill*

          Or that his sample wasn’t taken before he was actually infected. Especially if he’s now infected, but asymptomatic, it’s possible that if he tested at the same time as his girlfriend became symptomatic, he had both already contracted some viral load and not had it long enough for anything to show.

          The employee himself appears to have been following good guidelines: Assume that if you’ve been in contact with anyone who is being tested for COVID you’ve been exposed and are presymptomatic. Based on that, he would have had to stay out of the office anyway, and that’s really what will make a physical difference to OP and their business.

      3. bluephone*

        “but GF could have isolated at home but away from Grandmother or somewhere else where she wasn’t with boyfriend”
        Wait, I think that’s a huge conclusion to jump to. I live with three retired relatives between 68 and 80, with various “old people” health conditions (hypertension, alzheimer’s, diabetes in remission, etc). I also have hypertension and asthma and can work from home. If any one of us caught COVID, I would totally assume we’re all going to catch it/have already caught it. I can theoretically quarantine myself in my bedroom and a bathroom–but it’s the same bathroom that the 80 year old relative uses (and she has very poor mobility too so I can’t expect her to traipse up and down the stairs at 3 a.m. for the first floor bathroom. Also, her cognitive decline would prevent her from remembering that she can’t use the 2nd floor bathroom or that she can’t be near me). In theory, I could stay elsewhere during the 2 week period, but where? Other family members have varying levels of chronic health conditions that can be bad for COVID (cardiac, lung, etc) and exposure risks (healthcare, retail, essential jobs outside the home, etc). So if I stay with them, I’m exposing them, they’re further exposing themselves *and* everyone they come into contact to. Same if I stay with friends. So I can’t stay home because I might expose my relatives to COVID, but I can’t stay with other family or friends because I might expose them to COVID….so then I’m homeless??? How does that help anything?? I can’t afford to move into a hotel for 2 weeks or find a short-term flat which is why I live with said relatives in the first place. All that movement would also mean exposing total strangers. So…stay put and ride it out??? It’s very possible the girlfriend had no other place to go, besides her grandparents and her boyfriend’s. She chose the lesser of 2 evils, most likely. The BF had no reason to think he wasn’t already exposed to. It all sucks for the OP’s business needs but the headline is definitely misleading and I don’t know that the OP is in the right to paint her employee as Satan Incarnate here.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          It’s also a huge conclusion to jump to that the BF’s house with his parents was the only place she could isolate. People are assuming throughout this thread that was the only option, but we do not know from the letter that it was.

          1. Cat*

            But we also don’t know that it’s not. What we do know is that basically everyone is stuck in a situation where there are no good choices right now. Micromanaging what the boyfriend absolutely should have done to spare his employer having to pay sick time while he does the right thing and quarantines is pretty awful.

          2. Amykins*

            Why is that a huge conclusion to jump to? Sure, we don’t know for SURE that she had no other options, but I’d say that it’s probably not an uncommon situation that people wouldn’t have multiple options for quarantining. Most people couldn’t afford a hotel or airbnb stay for two weeks (and if you’re sick enough this may prove dangerous). Very few people have access to free empty living quarters that aren’t their own. At that point it’s a question of who do you know who is a) willing to host you (under any circumstances), b) is willing to host ANYONE under pandemic circumstances, and c) is willing (and low risk enough) to host someone who is sick and/or may have been exposed. I’d bet you that the majority of people out there have VERY few options that fit those requirements, if any. So no, we don’t know for sure, but is it a decent bet, and worth factoring into the conversation? Definitely.

            1. Marny*

              Agreed. That she had nowhere else to go is an incredibly safe conclusion to jump to. I can’t fathom there are too many people out there who are willing to open up their home to host someone ill who has tested positive. My husband and I have been incredibly cautious and it’s only the two of us in our home. We’re both healthy (so far) and have no high-risk medical issues. But if a friend called to ask if she could stay with us now that she’s tested positive, it would mean undoing all of the cautiousness we’ve used for the past 5 months. Even in a home that would allow us to isolate the friend, I wouldn’t be willing to host her. I don’t think that’s a unique feeling.

          3. EventPlannerGal*

            How is that a huge conclusion? Most people do not have access to additional empty properties in which to isolate. Many people do not live in homes large enough to allow one person to isolate without sharing kitchen/bathroom facilities with the other residents. Many people cannot afford an unexpected two-week stay in a hotel or airbnb. In these situations I would expect nearly all non-wealthy people to be relying on either family or a partner, which is exactly what happened here.

            Covid is really exposing some class/wealth-based assumptions. Where are you guys keeping all these empty quarantine hideaways?? Can I have one?

    3. Gingerblue*

      Yeah, the only really reckless behavior I’m seeing here is on the party-attending girlfriend’s part. But that’s not the employee’s fault, except insofar as he’s still around her. Characterizing any of this as deliberately exposing himself to the virus seems odd to me.

      The fact that the OP’s business regularly has enough revenue to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars and yet still be open and “super busy”, but doesn’t have a contingency plan for an employee being sick/potentially sick for ten days, speaks to bad planning on their part. The employee could just as easily have broken his leg or gotten regular-flavor flu or something.

      For what it’s worth, some of the details in this letter—the beer fridge, the toddler at work, the OP’s self-evaluation that they’re reasonable and that their workplace is accommodating—could be signs of a great, functional workplace, or could be warning signs of a terribly dysfunctional one. There’s no way to tell from the letter, but I think my knee-jerk reaction is to assume the second, so maybe take my response here with the awareness that the OP is, perhaps unjustifiably, raising my hackles a bit.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Characterizing any of this as deliberately exposing himself to the virus seems odd to me.

        He did deliberately expose himself though by choosing to have his girlfriend come and stay with him instead of telling her to quarantine as best she could away from her grandma at her own home. They weren’t living together prior to this situation. I get why he may have thought that if his girlfriend had the virus, then there was a high probability he had it too, but as we now know, that was an incorrect assumption to make.

        1. Gingerblue*

          He’d already been exposed to her, though. He needs to quarantine regardless of whether that first test came back negative. From the employer’s perspective, whether he’s negative or positive at the end of the quarantine period is a moot point as far as those two weeks is concerned.

        2. Kesnit*

          They weren’t living together, but a reasonable assumption is that if you are dating someone, you are going to be in close contact and swapping bodily fluids. (I mean kissing!) Given that, it makes since that the employee/boyfriend would assume he was infected. He was clearly exposed and there would have been plenty of opportunity to get infected between when GF was infected and when she began showing symptoms.

          Employee and GF were together before they knew she was infected. How is spending time with his pre-symptomatic SO “deliberately exposing himself?”

          1. Quill*

            Kissing’s probably higher risk than joining the duck club, given that it’s a respiratory illness.

        3. Spencer Hastings*

          The fact that his test came back negative doesn’t mean they weren’t justified in their decision. Surely it’s not a bad thing to protect the grandma from further viral load, even though she had already been exposed to the girlfriend.

      2. Tuckerman*

        I think of a lot of different potential scenarios when I hear “party.” A backyard BBQ where everyone is seated a few feet apart? A kegger in a crowded basement?
        We don’t know what “party” means here. But certainly in the next couple years (this will be around for years, if not forever) people are going to make calculations and will take some risks to stay connected/sane. And businesses will need to figure out policies to keep employees safe while staying afloat. A beer fridge is nice, but it doesn’t pay someone’s mortgage.
        It’s difficult all around.

        1. Cat*

          Yeah, I went to a birthday party at a park where every family unit had a spot marked out on the grass while away from each other in a circle and we all wore masks. Was this the 100% least risky choice? Nope. Do I think it was a reasonable choice. Yep. I’m curious how many people here think I deserve to be fired for this (apparently a lot from what I’m seeing.)

          My guess is what’s really going on is a lot just world fallacy.

          1. Heather*

            According to some of the comments here you deserve to get fired, your partner deserves to get fired, and you clearly don’t care about anyone in your life as you are obviously wishing death on them all.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        The fact that the OP’s business regularly has enough revenue to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars and yet still be open and “super busy”, but doesn’t have a contingency plan for an employee being sick/potentially sick for ten days, speaks to bad planning on their part. The employee could just as easily have broken his leg or gotten regular-flavor flu or something.


        The wannabe MBA weenie in my head says that all businesses should have re-evaluated their business plan WRT staffing, sick leave, and disaster recovery at the start of the pandemic. No, really. The disaster planning portion goes like this:
        * What do we do if one or more employees (% of employees) has to quarantine for 2 weeks?
        * What do we do if an employee on our site tests positive/gets sick before quarantining?
        * What do we do if an employee gets so sick that they are unable to work for months?
        * What do we do if employees die of this?
        * What do we do if we have to shut down because we are not counted “essential” in the rules?
        * What are the financial risks of reduced staffing, or needing to shut down our facilities?
        * Do we have a six month cash reserve, like all financial advisors demand that individuals maintain?
        * Do we have access to loans to help us cover payroll if we have a business interruption?
        I’m sure there’s more, but this is off the top of my head.

        I do DR planning at my job in IT. My employer sent out a survey *in November* asking about our readiness to work from home. (The virus was already tearing up Wuhan then, they just hadn’t admitted it.) The university IT administration was very pro-active on this. We have regular DR drills.

        While hindsight is 20-20, I still tend to look askance at companies that don’t pay attention to risks like this. People who paid attention to the international news saw this coming in at least January.

        There is a thing I like to call “bus syndrome vulnerable”: A department or even a business that is vulnerable for its ability to operate, or even exist, if a single employee gets hit by a bus. A sole proprietorship is always “bus syndrome vulnerable”, as are those that are essentially a couple. It’s endemic to small companies. But there are ways around it – contingency workers, contracts with disaster clauses, etc.

        If you didn’t make a plan during a pandemic for what to do if one full time employee was not available due to the pandemic, that’s not his fault – it’s yours.

        1. Cori*

          Great questions. Everyone wants to interrogate the details of the employee and girlfriend’s decision making, so why aren’t we applying the same level of scrutiny to OP’s frantic business problems?

      4. Green great dragon*

        I’m finding all the ‘it must be bad planning’ comments really harsh. These are unprecedented circumstances, and planning doesn’t create a money fairy. It’s certainly a sign the business is struggling, but I expect OP knows that, and it doesn’t mean the business won’t be successful again if it can survive this.

        I don’t think he should be fired, but I don’t think the situation’s OP’s ‘fault’ either.

        1. Lalaroo*

          Thank you! All of these comments seem to imply that if OP had just planned better they would have had, I don’t know, infinite money they could afford to lose? Truly, there comes a point when enough disasters have occurred that even the best planning is overwhelmed.

    4. pcake*

      The partner doesn’t live with the employee – it would have been very easy to quarantine from her.

    5. Autumnheart*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. It doesn’t matter how or why the employee caught COVID. What matters is that the business is one 2-week illness from being unable to function. Why is that the case? As Esme and Diahann Carroll have pointed out, this has been directly impacting businesses for 5 months now. That should have been more than enough time to come up with contingency plans.

      1. Green great dragon*

        I don’t think that’s quite the case, but even if it were – what sort of a contingency plan are you thinking would help?

        1. blaise zamboni*

          Squirrel away 2-weeks of leave pay for each person your business employs in case they need to quarantine from a pandemic? And if you can’t, admit that upfront and find a way to adjust their duties so you aren’t increasing anyone’s risk while you can’t afford to pay them leave (ie make them remote)? Or, go out of business.

          I feel for OP, it sounds like this is a hard time for them. But we live in a capitalist system, where we justify paying business owners oodles more for the “risk” they take on (yes, even small business owners; yes, even if you didn’t make a killing in your first year of business or whatever). That “risk” is meaningless if you can just pass it to your employees when you don’t like their actions. OP is the business owner, OP has the financial responsibility as well as the leadership responsibility to find a way to either make the business work or shut it down for the time being. I know that’s crappy for them, but the situation is crappy for everyone, and being a business owner doesn’t magically shield you from that. If you can’t run your business, don’t run your business. You can’t place the blame on your employees for being human and making human mistakes.

  8. Rob*

    Your employee’s girlfriend was infected with COVID and didn’t want to pass it to her Grandmother, so she is staying with the boyfriend?

    That doesn’t seem reckless. that seems like making the best out of a bad situation on his part. Its bad for your business, but as a healthy man in his late 20s, I’d much prefer that I get exposed than my grandmother.

    1. Littorally*

      This is my read as well. OP, if you’re reading comments, can you clarify? It sounds like he did not go out of his way to expose himself to covid, but rather assumed he probably already had it and provided space for his girlfriend to quarantine away from her elderly relative. Are we reading this wrong?

      1. Hopefully not the asshole*

        OP here – headline was not my creation. Editorial addition. My subject line was “Covid exposure, Am I the Asshole?”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, the headline was mine! (They usually are.) I’ve read the disagreement with it, and I’ve thought about it, but I do think the headline is accurate. I also realize that “intentionally exposed himself” can mean a whole range of things, and this isn’t on the “went to a Covid party” end of the spectrum. But I do think it’s accurate. Others may (and clearly do!) disagree.

          1. Box of Kittens*

            I’m genuinely surprised you’re leaving the headline. It’s only accurate in the most technical sense of the word and I feel like it affected what could have been a more constructive comment section on this one. As it is OP mostly got comments about it not being intentional, and that wasn’t even her wording.

            1. SickofCovid2020*

              Yes I feel a lot of the comments are giving the OP an unduly deserved hard time because of the inclusion of intentionally.

          2. Phoebe*

            I think where it’s misleading is that he didn’t intentionally expose himself to the virus initially as implied by your headline. He only chose to prolong his exposure by staying with his girl fiend instead of isolating himself completely after he had already been exposed. Your headline really makes it sound like the employee was the irresponsible one and that’s just not fair considering that he probably had limited options for quarantining. It’s your website and you have every right to let it stand as is, but it seems like click-baiting to me.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Ahh, that’s well said. I’ve been being very literal with it — he chose to quarantine with someone who had symptoms — but I see your point. Hmmm.

              1. VintageLydia*

                It was reasonable to assume he was already exposed by the time she had ymptoms.

              2. blackcat*

                It was likely the least bad of a set of bad choices. It likely posed a higher risk to him, but may have been the lowest risk to his/his gf’s community.

                FWIW, when my household got COVID, my husband was told when he first got symptoms that he had probably already sufficiently exposed me and my kid enough that isolating from us was likely not going be helpful. I got sick <48hr after he spoke to the doctor, so I was bound to get sick. Kid never did, though. In retrospect, I don't think this was great advice, but who really knows.

                I think the advice doctors give really varies (there hasn't been great guidance, and a lot of doctors do not fully trust the CDC right now and feel a bit at a loss). I'd *completely* believe that they were told he almost surely had it and there was no point in them isolating separately.

                I think the odds are pretty high the employee did his best to minimize risk to those around him/his gf. Describing him as "intentionally exposing himself" makes it sound like he took an egregious risk, which we really have no evidence of.

    2. Helvetica*

      I actually agree with this. To me, it looks like the choice was either the girlfriend being with her grandma – who is by age and maybe other factors at greater risk for getting a more severe version of COVID – or being with him. And I think it is rather reasonable for him to assume that he’d already got COVID from previous exposure to her. Was there another way to do this? Could he and his gf have isolated separately? We don’t know that.
      I don’t think this is such a big misjudgment that it would be merit firing him. A talking to, yes, but I don’t see a much better solution from his perspective either.

      1. Alex*

        Even if there was a physical space for her to isolate alone when it comes to Covid there is a lot of cases that fall in a middle ground between ‘can function to a level that requires no help with day to day essentials’ and hospitalisation, where the patient is well enough to be resting at home but is not really well enough to prepare there own meals and otherwise look after themselves meaning that they require some level of support from a friend or family member. If the choice was between the OPs employee providing such support or the elderly grandma it is pretty clear that the OPs employee made the right decision.

    3. need a new screen name and have no imagination*

      My daughter (20s) was living with my mother (80s) when the pandemic struck. Daughter moved in with family friends so she wouldn’t potentially infect my mother, though she did not believe she had been exposed. Neither daughter nor mother have been sick.

      I, otoh, caught it, around the time we transitioned to work-from-home, before our local masking orders were put in place.

    4. Save the Hellbender*

      I agree! I came here to say that I don’t see anything that really qualifies as “intentionally exposed himself to Covid”.
      If they were married, you wouldn’t expect them to have quarantined separately after tests, and it’s not an unreasonable assumption that if one SO has it, the other does. Also, if his girlfriend has it, he would need to stay home, right? For safety?

      I don’t know what OP should do because it sounds like the business is in serious trouble, but I think this employee operated as best he could under imperfect circumstances.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        If they were married, you wouldn’t expect them to have quarantined separately after tests

        My brother and his wife did after he was exposed at his job in a prison. She took my nieces and went to stay with her mom and grandma for a week while my brother quarantined alone in their house while waiting for his results. I didn’t think that was wise because my sister-in-law’s grandma is almost 90 and if my SIL or nieces had the virus thanks to my brother and were asymptomatic, they could have potentially killed grandma. But her mom’s house is much bigger than my brother’s pretty sizable house, so I guess they all made the calculation that grandma could be kept far enough away from SIL and nieces that transmission would be unlikely.

        1. Carlee*

          If they were married, they probably live in the same house.

          Employee and girlfriend do not.

    5. blepkitty*


      When I read the subject, I thought he’d gone to a Covid party or something! It wasn’t a good decision from the perspective of LW’s business, but it sounds like they made the most responsible decision post-exposure that they could have made for the people they care about, which should be anyone’s first priority imho.

      It was also the girlfriend who chose to go to a party, not the employee (unless we think he’s lying about that). While I’d be inclined to dump anyone who chose to go to a party right now, especially someone who lives with her grandmother (wtf, girlfriend???), this guy doesn’t have control over what his girlfriend does.

      1. Ginger Baker*

        Sure but he absolutely has control over what HE does…and knowing she went to a party, he definitely could have decided not to see her.

        1. blepkitty*

          We don’t know for sure that he knew she went to the party before she told him she was exposed.

        2. Cat*

          You’re expecting an absolutely ridiculous level of purity before someone deserves not to lose their job for actions taken in their personal life.

      2. HoHumDrum*

        To be fair, in my area the numbers are relatively low and people are allowed to gather if you stay outside/wear masks/socially distance. Obviously you can still get sick even doing all that, but I don’t think it’s insanely reckless to do something your local health department is saying is fine. I mean, I’m online enough to know that there are a lot of reasons why health departments allow what they allow that aren’t all based on safety, but I recognize that not everybody is on twitter all day.

        So that’s just to say I don’t know what kind of party the girlfriend was at, maybe it was a no mask bonanza and maybe it was something she thought she was a relatively safe and responsible choice. It’s hard to make good choices on your own when your government is basically telling you to fend for yourself.

      3. Rhythm of the Night*

        +1 too!

        I expected a COVID party and started reading thinking I’d be in support of the OP. But having your girlfriend stay with you when you’ve already been highly exposed to her and she lives with an elderly grandmother… I mean, that’s reasonable? We’re all making the best of the things, even if we’re trying to be as safe as possible. If my partner went to party and brought home COVID, I’d be mad as hell. But I would hope my employer wouldn’t take it out on me if I was taking care of my partner, thinking I was positive too, and not exposing grandma.

        If he’s otherwise a good employee, this should be a non-issue. If this is characteristic of additional lack of judgement, I would talk about those things, not this.

    6. Academic Addie*

      I agree with this. People are making hard choices. My husband was symptomatic, but it turns out had another virus. We live in a large enough house that I let him have our bedroom + attached bath, and just dropped food off for him at meals and snacks. If we didn’t have kids who we were trying to keep from being exposed or we were in a space with one bedroom, I probably would have assumed I had it and just quarantined with him. The girlfriend can’t go home to grandma, and I wouldn’t want to leave my sick partner if I could do anything about it.

    7. Me*

      I agree. It’s a bad situation that a decision had to be made in. Are we really advocating he’s reckless for not forcing the girlfriend to stay around her grandma when he had already likely been exposed to her?

      Yes it puts the OP in a bind but that’s what bad no win situations do..which is part of being in a pandemic.

      Op should reexamine what they expected him to do, I challenge them to come up with a good solution.

  9. Georgina Fredricka*

    Can’t this be a conversation first? I wonder whether the anger over your financial situation is clouding perception and pushing you to do the most drastic thing.

    I don’t think anything he did was that terrible (did I miss something)?? The girlfriend didn’t want to stay with her GRANDMA because she figured she was infected and could give her a deadly disease. This isn’t them taking a weekend vacation to the beach together because they felt bored! They were trying to properly quarantine (good) after getting the tests (good) because they experienced symptoms (yep, that’s what you should do).

    Regardless, it’s already happened and as Alison pointed out, it could have happened no matter what. But if you get along relatively well with this employee maybe he would be receptive to hearing your concerns and changing his behavior in the future to better accommodate you, if he understands the full financial burden –

    because the obvious next problem is replacing him, and it’s going to likely be very difficult to demand 100% compliance from anyone when compliance extends beyond what they themselves are doing, to their girlfriend/spouse/roommate whoever (it’s not clear from the letter whether he “approved” of the GF going to the party, and maybe seeing your girlfriend isn’t “totally necessary,” but it’s going to be almost impossible to ask any potential employee you replace him with to stay single for the year or more it will take to get vaccines).

    You also won’t have that built-in relationship you HAVE with your employee now, who is at least honest.

    It’s a gamble – and I’m sorry you have to experience it!

    1. Dog Coordinator*

      This! -> “I wonder whether the anger over your financial situation is clouding perception”

      I work for a small business (less than 10 employees), that is also all field work and can’t be done from home (aside from my managerial position) and we’ve been in similar situations and had to furlough most of our team at the beginning of Covid. While we haven’t been in the exact same situation, we have definitely had our share of frustrations. If one of the few people that we had still working had contracted covid it would have been devastating to what little operations we have been able to maintain, and I think we would have also been equally upset by an employee’s conduct like OP explained. But I think the big take away is: Is the overall anger at covid and the impact it has had, or is it at the employee? Certainly it can be both, but in the end the decision has to be based on facts moreso than feelings. I only say that since it seems that otherwise, the employee is a good one!

      Best of luck OP, I know there’s no good options in any of this right now.

  10. space cadet*

    A missing piece here is that he’d need a 2-week quarantine after exposure no matter what, even if a test a few days later came back negative. The point of the two weeks is that the virus can take that long to become infectious– so someone could test negative on Day 5 and be symptomatic on Day 10. (I think there was a recent story about a contagion path that went just this way.) It seems really important to separate your frustration with his behavior from the responsibility you would have anyway.

    (And personally, I don’t think his girlfriend staying with him instead of her grandma is irresponsible– he had good reason to believe he’d been exposed already, and it would possibly have been safer for him to continue exposure than for the grandma.) No doubt this is a blow to the business, but the possibility of an employee’s two-week quarantine really shouldn’t be a surprise.

    1. Nanani*


      Your business problems are not the employee’s fault.
      This is a global pandemic, a situation like this was likely to happen sooner or later. You have had time to prepare and there are resources available for businesses.
      You might need to disappoint some of your clients but again, global pandemic.

      1. Nesprin*

        Yep, coming here to say this. Your employee has been exposed, was showing symptoms and there’s a non-zero chance he’s a false negative. Him quarantining for 2wks is for the common good, and his girlfriend sequestering herself from her grandmother is for the common good.
        If your business cannot survive 2 wks without your employee in a major, worldwide crisis, your business should not survive.

        1. The Grey Lady*

          I think it’s a little harsh to say the business shouldn’t survive, but I agree that the lack of planning and resources is not employee’s fault. When this pandemic hit, all business owners should have assumed that at least one of their essential employees is going to get it and be out for a few weeks, and then come up with a plan for what to do when it happens. That way–if no one gets it, great–but if someone does, you already know how you’re going to handle it. That’s how you cover your butt as a business owner during all this.

          1. Colette*

            Any other year, I’d agree that the business should have a plan for someone to be out for a period of time – but around here, many businesses closed in March and are just now reopening. I’m sure that many of them are close to folding, and that one more setback will put them out of business altogether – and that’s not their fault. No one expects to have to close down for 1/3 of the year.

          2. Nesprin*

            I admit I was a little harsh, but the idea that essential employees should not see their significant others until the pandemic is over because business deadlines should come first struck me as a profoundly pathological line of thinking. Stuff happens, even outside of global emergencies, and not having a contingency plan for essential deadlines strikes me as a company problem, not an employee problem.

        2. Temperance*

          Their business was shut down for months during the pandemic. It’s not just two weeks we’re talking about here.

    2. Tyche*

      Yes, he needs a two week quarantine since last contact with his girlfriend. So he would always be out of work for 2 weeks anyway. Then test again after the 2 weeks and go back if negative.

    3. Specks*

      Exactly! There are false negatives and/or the virus could still be in its incubation period. Even if he does end up with a positive test, it could’ve been an exposure to her prior to the « quarantine” weekend.

      Neither was he reckless… if anything, how gf isolating away from her elderly grandmother was the right thing to do. Now, could the gf have been more responsible about it in the first place? Sure. But you employ humans and it’s not reasonable for you to expect your employees to not see their significant others or to control every decision of their significant others for a year or two of the pandemic so they can avoid the smallest risk of having to be away from work. Even if you fired him, who’s to say your next employee won’t be exposed at a supermarket or through the work of their spouse or something else?

    4. lost academic*

      That’s not what the recommendations are. The 14 day quarantine after exposure or potential exposure is to prevent exposure to others if you can’t get tested and not everyone can (or may be in a place where testing is taking over a week to get results back). The guidance we are receiving is that you should get 2 tests at least 48 hours apart and quarantine until you get the second set of results back.

      1. space cadet*

        This isn’t what the science says. If you’re still in the incubation period and get a negative test, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be infectious later (kind of like testing for STIs a few months after possible exposure)– so getting a negative test before the two-week incubation period is up isn’t a reliable all-clear. As has become sadly obvious, official recommendations haven’t been reflecting medical logic very well.

    5. blackcat*

      I also received two COVID tests–one came back negative and the other, three days later, was positive.
      False negatives are a thing. And given there was a high probability he was already exposed, it totally makes sense to me that his girlfriend would stay with him (low risk) rather than grandma (high risk). Ideally, people who tested positive would be isolated in hotels, but our government isn’t paying for that and many people can’t afford a 2+ week hotel stay.

    6. pcake*

      space cadet – the virus doesn’t take up to two weeks to become infectious; it takes up to two weeks for symptoms to appear. You can be contagious from day two or three, during which time pretty much everyone is asymptomatic, through day four through fourteen, which is the time it takes to develop symptoms, and then you continue to be contagious for days, weeks or even months – it varies a lot. And that’s not taking into account the people who have the virus but never develop any symptoms. They could be spreading it for several weeks.

      1. space cadet*

        Yes, I meant that it might take that long to develop a problem, not that they would stop being infectious in two weeks or that they wouldn’t be before two weeks. My point was that they could test negative (and really not have a detectable viral load) but be sick and test positive a few days later.

  11. The Cardinal*

    I’m leaning toward firing him as a practical business decision. Negative test or not, the OP shouldn’t risk exposure to her, her family members, or the other part time employee given the known exposure the employee in question has had to COVID-19, and given the fact that a negative test result isn’t always accurate.

    He shouldn’t be allowed back for at least 14 days (as per CDC guidelines) and given the fact that there is a lot of work to do, the OP needs to fire him and hire someone ASAP (or possibly two part time someones) just to meet her business obligations.

    I definitely understand the OP’s anger, but Alison makes a great point. But ultimately, the OP has to do what is best for everyone’s health and the business.

    1. Lara Cruz*

      Wait you want to fire people for getting sick? Like literally for the act of getting sick? *During a runaway global pandemic?*

      You realize that is literally an impossible requirement for maintaining a job, right?

      1. HoHumDrum*

        Listen, if you have a corporeal body you’re putting the company at risk and that’s just something we at Work, Inc. can’t stand for.

        But yeah, this is a terrible idea. If you fire people for being sick all you’re gonna do is guarantee sick people lie about being sick and come in anyway, which is a much worse situation.

        1. A Corporeal Body*

          looolll, always love hearing from the Suits at Work, Inc. Obviously, literal empty suits are their legal and HR department, as it’s safest that way.

      2. NotALawyer*

        Yeah… I also think that his hiring would be illegal because of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act…. It provides paid-COVID leave for many employees.

        1. Cj*

          Yes, and this act should pay him for his quarantine time (by a tax credit to the employer) as long as he is seeking medical treatment. A second test, which he should definately have, would count, so his pay won’t come out of the OP’s pocket.

  12. Former call centre worker*

    I’m not sure if I’m misunderstanding, but what’s so terrible about his judgement? He preferred to take additional risk of being infected by his possibly infected girlfriend by having her stay, rather than leave her to infect her presumably elderly, and therefore more vulnerable, grandmother? If that’s the case maybe you should be glad to have someone working for you who would take a risk to protect the health of an older person, even if it is inconvenient for your business. (But jesus, don’t let him come back to work yet if he’s been with the girlfriend after testing negative)

    1. TooTiredToThink*

      Yeah, I’m not getting it either – or all the calls for firing him. His *girlfriend* went to a party. Not him. He then spent time with his girlfriend (which I don’t blame anyone for doing unless they are under very strict stay at home orders). They then suspected she had it – so of course he assumed he’d been exposed. I would have assumed that too. And then she didn’t want to expose her elderly grandmother anymore than she already had.

      Like… I seriously don’t get what the issue is. I feel like people are assuming he should have had 20/20 hindsight about this.

      1. serenity*

        And as others have said, the title of this letter is mischaracterizing the situation and painting the employee with the most malicious possible intent.

    2. pcake*

      He’s willing to risk the life of his employer, coworkers and their families, and he’s risking his own family, as well. He was told to quarantine and instead spent the time with an infected person, making his negative test pointless as he could have caught the virus over the weekend.

      1. Cat*

        That would be true if he didn’t continue quarantining after that, but he did. He didn’t go to work and expose coworkers. The LW is mad that they have to pay for quarantine time, not that they were exposed.

  13. kzkzk*

    I may disagree that he was acting irresponsibly or that the business has any ability to fire someone because of this. It seems pretty logical for the girlfriend to quarantine away from an elderly family member, and with her boyfriend (who was already exposed to her) is a logical, and perhaps only available, place for her to stay. I don’t think an employer can/should impose these kind of restrictions on an employee about their personal relationships/living arrangements. They may be living apart officially, but maybe are at a stage where they practically are living together at one or the other residences. How would they know? tbh, the employee shouldn’t have told so much info to the business owners who frankly really do seem like assholes.

  14. Shramps*

    I have a lot of thoughts on this. I would understand you being mad aboht this but I think a boss and business owner needs to accept some reality that their employee is always susceptible to getting sick. You say it’s a small family business, what conversations did you have with your employee about precautions and expectations?

    I think the fact that she attended a party is relevant, though it was weeks ago. So is that what you’re mad about? He didn’t quarantine from her even though she’s exposing herself?

    1. Shramps*

      These are all mostly rehetorical questions but I will do my best to reply, I am on mobile :(

    2. need a new screen name and have no imagination*

      If the party really was “weeks ago,” then it’s unlikely that that is where the girlfriend was infected. Most people show symptoms 5-10 days after infection.

      I will never know where or how I was infected. I was just going about my regular life, working in my office, taking public transportation, shopping in the supermarket, doing laundry in the laundromat, etc. I don’t think I caught it at work as none of my coworkers became ill (which also means I didn’t pass it to them, which made me happy), but could have picked it up in at least half-a-dozen other places.

        1. need a new screen name and have no imagination*

          I seem to be fine, though who knows if something will pop up in future, given what emerging science seems to indicate about longer-lasting symptoms/conditions.

          I had a very mild case, though I was sick for several weeks.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Well .. asymptomatic carriers are a possibility so you could have gotten it or passed it on at work. At this stage with so many people sick it pretty impossible to contact trace.

        1. need a new screen name and have no imagination*

          True, but my coworkers were good about reporting illness and work was good about communicating about potential exposure. We got regular briefings about that–no coworkers were named but there were memos along the lines of “someone in this other department was exposed; we have already spoken to everyone in the department to let them know about this.”

          Months later, exactly three people in my division (roughly 100 people) have been ill, including me, so we are all counting ourselves lucky that we have been in a position to work from home and self-quarantine. Given our in-office locations and the timing of the illnesses, it’s unlikely we three infected each other, though one of the others infected their spouse.

    3. Alex*

      The party should not be relevant. As soon as you expect employees to be able to police what others do in their non-working time you are setting them up for problems. Not only this but expecting people to police the behaviour of their partner allows abusers who wish for their victim to become financially dependant on them an easy opportunity to ensure that their victim loses their job (and also for abusers to bring in more and more absurd restrictions on what their victim can do on the basis that ‘their employer said so’, as once employers begin policing the personal life of non-employees further restrictions appear more plausible).

      1. Shramps*

        No, but I think we can assume the employee knew his Girlfriend went to a party which is by proxy exposing him. If she went to a 10+ person party w no social distancing, and he saw her immediately after (no quarantining her for 2 weeks) then he intentionally exposed himself.

        That was his call.

        1. Alex*

          Maybe he didn’t know that’d she’d been to the party until after they’d had contact, or even until after she had symptoms, at which point he reasonably thought that there was no point in restricting contact as they’d already been in contact. It’s also true that refusing to see a partner for several weeks is likely to be the end of many relationships and I think it’s a bit much to effectively expect people to break up because their partner had made a singular bad decision.

          1. Shramps*

            Yeah we don’t know enough about the party situation.

            I completely disagree with your second point, I think it’s reasonable to expect distance between partners during a pandemic. If she’s going to parties and not social distancing, he’s allowed to say he wants her to quarantine from him. I don’t think two weeks would be enough time to dissolve an otherwise healthy relationship. Plus I never said anything about them needing to break up, just that he should be aware of what his partner is doing during these contagious time.

          2. Temperance*

            That’s kind of a lot of leaps of logic. Personal responsibility is absolutely still a thing, and maybe it’s more important now than ever.

          3. pancakes*

            Really? Not seeing one another for two weeks during a pandemic shouldn’t be the end of many relationships past high school age. “If I can’t see you for 2 weeks it’s over” is an infantile, self-regarding, and overly-dramatic mindset.

  15. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    Honestly, if you have 1.5 employees and having one of them quarantine from COVID is going to run your business into the ground, you need more employees. What if someone else gets COVID and has to quarantine? What if someone brings it into the office and the entire company has to quarantine for two weeks? Are you just going to close up shop forever and go bankrupt paying fines for damages?

    This is a business plan that is set to fail, if you are running so lean that you cannot have a single person absent during a **global pandemic** without going bankrupt.

    1. PiggyStardust*

      I agree with all of this. It would be the same thing if an employee had a non-COVID related reason for not being able to work — death in the family, got hit by a bus, attacked by bees etc.

      1. Anonymosity*

        For sure. What happens if he marries this girlfriend and decides to take a honeymoon?

        I don’t think I would want to work for a business where I’m this indispensable. Even if I love the job, that doesn’t mean I want to spend all my waking hours at it. It might be your business and your baby, but it’s not the same for people who work for a paycheck.

    2. KR*

      I agree. And some businesses have to run lean, and I know OP is already in the hole due to the pandemic, but this was bound to happen.

      1. KR*

        Adding on… This employee could have just as easily gotten kidney stones or broke his leg or something instead of getting COVID. Like it sucks and it’s massively inconvenient and may cost OP a lot of money they don’t have, and I feel for them, but I just don’t see a lot of blame on the employee here

        1. Quill*

          OP may be in a BETTER situation because it was covid related, and not, say, a broken leg, depending on what portion of their employee’s salary while in quarantine will end up being covered by governmental assistance.

    3. Dr. Rebecca*

      Yes. I mean, what if it wasn’t COVID, what if it was something else where you needed (or felt obligated) to keep paying their salary for a few weeks while they recuperated? What if they got hit by a bus?

    4. Ali G*

      I’m with you. I don’t fully understand the “I can’t pay for both employees” line, do they mean that they need to bring in someone to cover for the employee while he quarantines? Wouldn’t that be the case in any situation the employee can’t work?
      If your employee got hit by a bus and needed to be in the hospital for 2 weeks, would you fire him for having such bad judgement as crossing a street? I don’t think so.
      PS – as others have said, I don’t really think he showed poor judgement. He made what turned out to be the wrong call by assuming he had it. But I would much rather have someone assume they have it than not.

    5. Lora*

      This. If you cannot stand to lose even one person without the business folding, then the business is too risky. There are different ways to de-risk depending on industry, but “everything collapses if Joe finds another job that pays better” is not a business plan.

    6. C in the Hood*

      I was waiting for someone to bring this up. OP, you need a contingency plan, like, yesterday!

    7. Blue Eagle*

      Great job blaming these small business owners who are doing the best that they can in a turbulent world and who are rightly concerned about any adverse affects to their small child, who they bring to work.
      A business owners first responsibility is to make sure the business survives – – before responsibility to any individual employee.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        That’s the risk of going in to business. They did no contingency planning. That’s not their employee’s responsibility, it’s theirs. So yes, they get the blame for a lack of planning. It’s part of their job as business owners.

        I have a small micro-business as a side gig. It is pretty dormant because my main sales come from events that are not happening. I know a lot of other sole proprietorships in the same boat. Some have had to get regular jobs, because their businesses can’t operate. My business doesn’t have employees, because the money to pay someone isn’t there.

        If your business plan relies on people not being human, then you shouldn’t be in business.

      2. aebhel*

        Everyone is dealing with a turbulent world right now; business owners aren’t unique in that, and a business model that depends on no one getting sick during a pandemic is just… not a viable one.

        1. Quill*

          Ultimately what we’re seeing is a business landscape with a viability that was artificially maintained prior to the pandemic. It comes from an economy that, quite frankly, has been unsustainable for decades. Neither of these things is OP’s fault but they are OP’s problem, in that it wouldn’t be any more reasonable to fire this guy if we were in an alternate, virus-free 2020 and he was out for two weeks after eating badly prepared fugu, or breaking a limb skydiving.

    8. Curmudgeon in California*

      This. The business has no flexibility to allow for the humanity of its employees.

      Even if there wasn’t a pandemic, what if an employee:
      – went on maternity leave
      – broke a leg
      – needed surgery that put them out for six weeks to recover
      – had a stroke at 33 and never returned
      – resigned suddenly to go follow their bliss
      – got arrested and jailed for DUI
      – had a relative die and needed to go clean out an apartment in another state
      – won the lottery and no-notice quit
      – etc, etc, etc?

      I’ve seen or heard about most of these happening.

      Contingency planning is a thing. I strongly recommend it, for all businesses large and small.

    9. EventPlannerGal*

      This. I also am failing to see the logic in that apparently this employee is essential to the business and OP is mad that he will be unavailable for 2 weeks, so the solution is to… fire him forever? This is essential work that is keeping the business afloat but also OP can for sure hire someone and get them trained up to do it just as well as this guy in less than two weeks?

  16. Kara S*

    Because the girlfriend lived with someone who is high risk (her grandmother), I can understand why they quarantined together. I don’t think that action is unreasonable. Even though his test is negative, it doesn’t mean that he does not have COVID as the test is not 100% reliable.

    The irresponsible behaviour is from the girlfriend (going to a party?? While she lives with her grandmother???).

    1. Shramps*

      I wonder if a few weeks ago means 4th of July BBQ or something.

      The girlfriend’s behavior can not be policed- I wonder how the bf interpreted it. I wish we had his perspective!

      1. Kara S*

        Ooh I didn’t think of that. I was picturing a house party where everyone is shoulder-to-shoulder. I can see how a Fourth of July party (which could have been a family picnic outdoors) was seen as lower risk by the girlfriend and the employee.

    2. Ginger Baker*

      Yeah this is the part that is getting to me in a big way. I live with my elderly mother and no one in this house has gone ANYWHERE or done ANYTHING that is not absolutely essential…and won’t be for a long long time. I haven’t seen my partner in this entire time, and my exhuband, when he needed a place to stay for a month while his apartment was being renovated – and he usually would just come stay with us, since we are friends + he could *see his children* – opted to take a much less convenient housing solution because of fears even with negative tests that he might be the one to kill my mom and *no one wants that*. I have so much sideeye for the girlfriend that my eyes are a block away.

    3. Gingerblue*

      I’m similarly unimpressed with the girlfriend here, regardless of whether the party was where she caught it. It’s a bit late to care about grandma now.

    4. Georgina Fredricka*

      we’re also hearing this secondhand, so I wonder if “party” was even the word initially used rather than picnic, gathering etc. – there’s so much anger in the letter I could see them substituting in a word

  17. Box of Kittens*

    Did he really *intentionally* expose himself? Presumably the girlfriend was trying not to expose her grandma more than she possibly already had. If I was in her position, I would also assume that my boyfriend likely had it since they spend time together and weigh the risk of him, a younger, healthier adult, getting it against my grandma, an older, likely less healthy adult. It could definitely be argued that they shouldn’t be spending time together at all, and I’m definitely judging her for going to a party right now, but I feel like the employee is doing the best he can with the info he has. Maybe he should be fired, idk. But the OP’s reaction doesn’t seem to quite fit the situation to me, especially given what Alison said about how this could have happened in a different, much more “perfect” scenario.

    1. Quill*

      Yes. Like, she likely did not know she had been exposed (long incubation time) until she was symptomatic. She’d probably already seen him, probably without social distancing and masks, during that time.

  18. Elliott*

    I think a lot of people are struggling right now to make the best decisions in a situation where options are limited and our government (in the US) isn’t doing a very good job of issuing clear guidance or providing resources. The employee should really have been social distancing from his girlfriend to begin with, but I don’t know that I would call this him intentionally exposing himself, which would imply to meet that he went out of his way to try to catch COVID. This is less egregious than something like going out to bars or taking vacations, I think. It sounds like he knew he was exposed, assumed he likely had it and/or would have to quarantine for 14 days, and he had and his girlfriend made a choice to quarantine together instead of putting her grandmother at risk. I don’t know what the girlfriend’s other options were. I would feel differently if she had ample options to quarantine alone vs. whether her choices were to stay with her grandmother or with her boyfriend, for example. But regardless, I think a lot of people are in a position right now where they’re being forced to make risk assessments that they aren’t equipped or knowledgeable enough to be making.

    None of that changes the changes the challenges and limitations that the OP’s business is facing right now, but my inclination would be to try to have compassion when making a decision.

    1. blepkitty*

      “I think a lot of people are in a position right now where they’re being forced to make risk assessments that they aren’t equipped or knowledgeable enough to be making.”

      This is an excellent point. I’ve seen so much arguing and so many people who are clueless about how infection works, and the health guidance we’ve gotten from formerly respected institutions has been such a mess that I can’t blame anyone for being confused, unless they’re refusing to wear a mask because they think this is all a hoax.

    2. Pommette!*

      This is such an important point to keep in mind, and very well-expressed.

      Everyone is juggling risks, often with very little formal support or guidance. Many of us don’t have a lot of options available for doing so, and are stuck picking between bad choices. And in all cases, in the absence of clear, consistent, and credible guidance, our perceptions of what is risky, and of what risks are acceptable, are largely shaped by the people in our immediate and media communities. It’s a good time to err on the side of compassion.

  19. Lara Cruz*

    Wait wait wait, let me get this straight, your business is so fragile that your only employee cannot get sick during a pandemic without you cratering?

    Yea, you’d be an asshole for firing him but you’re already an asshole for putting the entire success of the venture on the back of a single person and demanding he not get sick ever. *During a global pandemic.*

    He didn’t deliberately get exposed and his judgement was perfectly sound in a difficult situation. It’s not like he ran off to Disneyworld like a reckless idiot.

    1. Blue Eagle*

      But he DID get deliberately exposed. He was fine with hanging out with his girlfriend whose behavior included attending a party where she got exposed. If he didn’t want to get exposed, he should have made her self-quarantine for 14 days before he hung out with her after her attendance at that party.

      1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        The party was “a few weeks ago” per OP. Her current illness is not from the party since she developed symptoms more than 14 days after.

  20. Commenter*

    Having done contact tracing and positive case investigations for my state, I would say his behavior was not ideal, but also not rising to the level of firing the guy. If he and his girlfriend were together up until the point that she started feeling bad, he already would have been exposed unknowingly. Is it possible that grandma is old and infirm and needed the weekend to disinfect the entire house before taking her granddaughter back in to isolate once the test results came in? This could have been the lesser of two less-than-ideal choices.

    Also, if he is classed as an essential employee, provided he remains asymptomatic, he does not need to quarantine for 14 days following exposure to the positive case. You would just have to manage the environment to enable him to come to work with the proper precautions. Keep in mind that state definitions of essential can be narrower than the federal list.

  21. Blaise*

    I honestly don’t see a whole lot of recklessness on his part, just the girlfriend’s… I even wonder if he got a false negative on his test because for real, what are the odds that he’s presumably been spending time with her for WEEKS after she’d been unknowingly exposed and not caught it??

    1. Quill*

      Nowhere near as good as the odds that in any previous school year, my mom would catch strep or pinkeye and somehow fail to pass them to my dad. Then again, she’s had both so often that she’s been known to text me “damn it, I have strep again,” just based on how it feels before she has any symptoms that actually distinguish it from a cold or a sore throat.

    2. Cheluzal*

      Yeah, she supposedly gets it from a party that she probably didn’t get right up on people but yet he doesn’t get it and most likely kissed and even slept with her? Either it’s not as contagious as we think or one or both results are erroneous.

      Honestly it sounds like 0P is more angry with the work and money aspect of it but that’s their small business set up.

  22. Ann Perkins*

    If I were in your shoes, he’d be on 2 week quarantine unpaid leave since he can’t WFH. Use a temp if that’s an option and is necessary. Jumping to firing seems like a stretch if he’s otherwise been a good employee.

  23. Elenna*

    One note: it sounds like the girlfriend had the choice of living with her grandmother (presumably old enough to be at high risk if she got COVID) or with her boyfriend (younger and likely reasonably healthy). So I’m not sure I’d even count that as an irresponsible decision.

    The girlfriend going to a party (?!!?!) is obviously very irresponsible, but you’re not employing the girlfriend. So what you’re looking at is your employee’s decision to keep meeting up with her after she went to a party. Which admittedly is still very irresponsible. At that point it’s basically your decision on whether you can trust him in the future, while weighing the financial consequences of hiring and training a new person (which may or may not be more expensive than eating the payroll cost of his quarantine).

    (Although, you say the party was “a few weeks ago”, I wonder how long that was? Because I could maybe see a situation where he stayed away from her for two weeks after that party, they finally met again after she seemed symptom-free, and then it turned out she just had a long incubation period. Looking into that is probably getting way too much into stuff that’s not your business, though.)

    1. Shramps*

      That’s a good point- maybe they did quarantine from each other for two weeks after she went to the party.

    2. Quill*

      Or her exposure wasn’t actually from the party, or they thought that some combination of outdoors + mask + distance + following state guidelines without full knowledge of whether the state was actually doing full dilligence in their recommendations made the party very low risk, etc, etc.

  24. Morticia*

    I am sorry if this seems harsh, but if you’re super busy and can’t afford to pay both your employees, there might be a problem with your business model. Things happen in business, and you should be able to cover contingencies, especially if you have lots of work.

    1. NotALawyer*

      I agree. I may have been more sympathetic if the business was struggling, but it seems like they are making good money…. there are some small business owners that really take running a business personally and lord over their employees. I am getting those vibes a little here.

  25. rodeoclown*

    I’m a little confused about why the business owners think he did anything wrong here. He was already exposed to his girlfriend when they both had to get tested, and I think they did the responsible thing by quarantining together rather than having her quarantine with her grandmother. We know the virus affects elderly people worse — I think it would have been irresponsible for her to go home when she knows it could easily kill her grandmother.

    Plus, there’s a decent chance he could have gotten a false negative on his Covid test. If he was showing symptoms, you should have had him quarantine for two weeks even with a negative test. Considering they both assumed they were ill, I don’t think the employee did anything wrong. Yes, you would be the asshole if you fired him. I don’t even know what you would get out of that — punishing him for having a life outside of work? He didn’t do anything especially risky here, and you would be a massive jerk for leaving him without healthcare or a job in the worst recession since the great depression. Find a way to cope and send your employee a get well soon card.

  26. catsoncarpets*

    I never ever comment but in this case OP and Alison both kind of sound like they value OP’s business over the life of an elderly woman? There might be other things I’m missing. I’m just confused about how it could be poor judgement to sacrifice some weeks at a job in order to help shield an elderly woman from a deadly virus, unless the business was more important (than the elderly woman’s life)?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My goodness, no. I assumed the girlfriend had other options than exposing her grandmother (versus exposing the boyfriend and his parents, who he lives with, and by extension everyone the boyfriend comes in contact with at work, any of whom could also be high-risk), but perhaps she didn’t. But I think quarantining with another person (who’s in contact with others) is a terrible idea unless you have zero options, which is info we don’t have about her situation.

      1. Arctic*

        That’s an odd assumption though.

        How many people have a ton of options in these circumstances? I wouldn’t want to expose an elderly person. But I don’t think any of my friends would want to house me under the circumstances, either. Understandably so.

        Stay in a hotel? Then you are exposing EVEN MORE people. Take this time to move into your own place? That’s a whole process that can’t be done in a week.

        Your romantic partner who is statistically less likely to have a severe outcome is the most logical choice.

      2. Save the Hellbender*

        Well, the letter doesn’t say where they quarantined — my assumption was that the employee and his gf found somewhere where they weren’t around anyone except each other, and that OP had a problem with the fact that he stayed with his gf instead of quarantining alone.

        I guess we don’t know exactly what they did or what his options were, but based on what OP wrote, I don’t see any “intentional exposure to covid.” Am I reading that wrong?

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I’m sort of on the fence about it. Ideally if they’ve both been tested and are both awaiting results, but she has symptoms and he doesn’t, he’d realize it’s possible she got it but he didn’t and thus they’d both quarantine alone. I don’t know if that was practical for either of them. However, if they were awaiting test results, it does seem to me they should’ve considered the possibility he was not yet infected. It sounds like after they got tested they figured “welp, we’ve been around each other, we must both have it” and thus quarantined together under that assumption. I know there are plenty of asymptomatic people – or he could’ve been pre-symptomatic, but given she was symptomatic it’d seem to me she absolutely should’ve been presuming she was positive until proven otherwise. And I know from a practical standpoint, they do tell everyone awaiting test results to do that. But him presuming he was positive and continuing to spend time with her only increased his risks of contracting it if he hadn’t already. So maybe he didn’t “intentionally expose himself to COVID” but he intentionally took his source of previous potential exposure…and spent more time in close quarters thus potentially exposing himself more/again. Now needs another test because even if he were negative from the first he might be positive now from the additional exposure.

      3. Amtelope*

        I’m surprised to hear you taking this position. Most people don’t financially or practically have options if they test positive other than staying in their own home or the home of someone they know. If my options were “potentially expose my elderly grandmother” or “potentially expose my boyfriend,” I’d choose to expose my boyfriend. I am finding it hard to imagine what other options you think are commonly available.

        1. NotALawyer*

          some countries are offering up hotel rooms as quarantine facilities, however the US is really failing in its response to the virus.

        2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          A few states are providing COVID hotels, where the health department gives people with cases of COVID who are well enough to care for themselves free hotel rooms to isolate away from their families and roommates. But it’s only a few states that are making this widely available.

        3. Grey*

          …or “potentially expose my boyfriend,” I’d choose to expose my boyfriend.

          Right. Especially since she’d already exposed him and it was assumed they’d have equal test results.

        4. Lynn Whitehat*

          My city has hotels set up as isolation facilities. Free to the “guests”. I know you can stay there if you have Covid, so that would have been a solution for the GF. I don’t know if you can stay there while awaiting results, but if so, that would be a solution for OP.

          1. Academic Addie*

            Wow, that’s really cool. I’ve never heard of such a thing. Is it a big city? Or a rich one?

            1. Grapey*

              I wonder the same – and who/how much they’re paying to clean afterwards. Housekeeping staff are often from demographics that are being the most affected by COVID.

          2. Cat*

            Is this a U.S. city? Because a couple talked about doing this but my understanding is that virtually none actually implemented it.

            1. pancakes*

              I’m in NYC and we have a small hotel quarantine program. I’m not sure how much usage there’s been, but the last time I read about it, something like 140 hotels (out of 700) were participating.

          3. aebhel*

            I live in NY, pretty close to the epicenter of the outbreak, and I’ve never even heard of such a thing. It’s really not an option for most people.

      4. Annony*

        What options involve exposing fewer people? She lives with her grandmother so she can’t go home. Staying with a friend is out. Most hotels and AirBNBs don’t allow people who are suspected to have COVID (and even if they did she would be exposing the cleaning staff). Her boyfriend was already exposed and quarantining so it would make sense to just put both of them in a room together and his parents can drop supplies off at the door. I am honestly curious about if there are options I missed because I have been trying to think though what I would do if I get sick to minimize exposure for others.

      5. Helvetica*

        I am also very surprised at such an assumption since we are supposed to take letter-writers by their word and not assume things that aren’t in the letter. Unless the LW said that the employee or girlfriend had other means available, I can’t really agree that we should assume they had other options available or that they could even afford to separate even more. And moreso, if the gf is seriously ill but not enough to require hospitalization, then she would need someone to take care of her. And maybe in this case, it could only be her boyfriend.

        1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

          The letter says “He then explained that his girlfriend didn’t want to be at home with her grandma and he assumed they would both have it so they spent the weekend (after they got their tests but before they got their results) quarantining together.” I took that as they spent the weekend *at the employee’s house* and that the girlfriend is not in any way planning to expose her grandmother.

          1. pancakes*

            Unless the girlfriend went directly to her boyfriend’s place after the party she almost certainly did expose her grandmother to risk, though. If she wasn’t planning to expose her to any risk at all she shouldn’t be going to parties.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’ve also adjusted my thoughts in the post itself (basically just removed the part saying I could see firing him, which I no longer think).

      6. Rach*

        My family was in a similar situation that ended better by sheer luck. My sister got a positive covid test; my niece (who has asthma/is high risk) came to quarantine with my family (myself, my husband, and 2 kids) after they had a negative rapid test. We stayed separated as much as possible until their (my niece) next test came back negative. My husband continued to go to work. If their test had come back positive, my husband would be in the same situation as OP’s employee. My husband was not irresponsible, my niece had nowhere else to go but it was safer for them to be at my house rather than my sister’s.

        It is unfair to assume the gf had somewhere else to go and the employee did nothing wrong, it was difficult position to be in.

      7. Koala dreams*

        Surely most people don’t have an extra home, where no one is living, within close distance (travel is out), to quarantine in? In this case she has the option to go to the boyfriend, which is one option more than many other people have, and you expect her to have a third option? What an odd assumption!

      8. Cat*

        I’m actually pretty surprised you think it’s likely that someone has a private quarantine space for two weeks or the resources to get one. Not many people do. Yes, a lot of upper middle class professionals who read this blog do but in general? Maybe she lives with her grandmother because she likes it, but a lot of people do it for financial reasons and there’s zero chance she can find a totally private quarantine space.

      9. Flawed by Design*

        I know you changed your stance in a later comment, but even if quarantining with his girlfriend was a mistake, did it actually affect the situation at all? The current guidance is to quarantine for 2 weeks after exposure to someone who tests positive for COVID. Whether he had spent the weekend with his girlfriend, he was indeed exposed to someone with COVID and the two week quarantine would still apply.

        If they were upset about potentially having to pay him for the 2 week quarantine PLUS additional time out if he eventually develops symptoms, then I could maaaybe understand, but it seems like they’re upset that he’s going to be out for two weeks instead of just one.

    2. Hopefully not the asshole*

      OP here – I’m really discouraged that people think we don’t value an elderly woman’s life. I realize that this letter opened us up to scrutiny (much of deserved and has brought up significant points) but I never realized that trying to be succinct for the sake of clarity would backfire so drastically.
      To be clear: we are humans and we want everyone to live. I didn’t have enough information myself to know the medical and living situations of all involved. I’m actually mostly legally barred from asking those types of questions – the CARES act is very specific on our requirements. I can’t ask for any medical documents and standard EEOC and ADA requirements prevent me from asking other medical type questions. I have in fact learned more information that would lead me to the same conclusion everyone here found: there weren’t many other options, at least readily available. Of course my business is not more important than a life. Of course there are facts not included in my letter that factor into everything. Of course we are all just doing the best we can.

      I don’t need anyone’s grace in this scenario, but please do understand we aren’t monsters and would never expect money to come before a life.

      1. specialist*

        You’re not a monster. Your employee was lazy when it came to looking at his options. He chose what he wanted to do and did it. He doesn’t get a free pass on this one.

  27. MelonHelen*

    I agree with most of the comments that have been posted so far – you are judging him to be irresponsible based on the hindsight of knowing what you know now.

    -The girlfriend went to a party attended by someone with the virus, but she didn’t know that at the time.
    -She got sick and has moved in temporarily with her boyfriend so her high risk relative didn’t catch it.
    -The boyfriend, reasonably, assumed he probably had caught it from her, so he said okay.
    -The girlfriend is positive and your employee is negative.

    Do you realize that even though his test came back negative, that doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t have the virus? It means the swab didn’t pick up any. Maybe he doesn’t have it, and maybe if he took another test today, it would come back positive. Maybe if he tests again in ten days, it will come back positive. Because of this, he can’t/shouldn’t come back to work until the end of the ten days (I don’t know what to say about what the doctor said).

    IMO, your issue is one to do with business and being short of funds, not an employee that did something wrong.

    1. ThePear8*

      I think this puts it really nicely! The bigger issue here is a financial one, not a disciplinary one.
      I mentioned it in another comment on here, but to reiterate, false negatives are a thing and they’re a big thing. It’s not just the rare blip – there’s a roughly 20% rate of false negatives, meaning 1 of every 5 COVID tests come back with inaccurate results. That’s not to discredit the tests entirely, I still think people who have been exposed should be tested – but results should be taken with a grain of salt and other circumstances surrounding exposure and symptoms should be considered. The test can’t be taken as gospel.

  28. What's with Today, today?*

    First, I’m in Texas. I don’t know what you can do. We have had that happening all over(hello hot spot). A big local church had a week long festival and people got sick left and right. Then one of them went to a wedding and well…now they are all sick. It’s like, no one gets the severity of this. Our county judge does our case reports and death reports daily (34 dead, in a town of 25,000) and everyday he tells us to social distance, blah, blah, blah…this past weekend he took 32 people – including an entire high school cross country team his wife coaches – to another state for a get-away and float trip, and it’s just all over his facebook page like no big deal. Vacations are happening normally, no quarantine after. My boss is taking his kid to out of state sports tourneys every weekend, co worker and his GF are going to Houston and Austin every weekend like it’s no biggie. I love to say fire his ass, but how do we fire everyone who thinks this is crazy? I’m so tired.

    1. Shramps*

      “How do we fire everyone this crazy” is a legitimate question in America- and I say that as an American. Not enough people in this country can stay home, so most people just won’t.

    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      My family is in the Houston area and I’m just continually dismayed at how people are acting — my 85 year old grandmother was in the hospital for non-covid reasons as covid cases were being trucked in to the floors beneath her. I can understand your exhaustion. I hope you and your family stay safe and well.

    3. SickofCovid2020*

      I’m in Texas too and I feel like it’s highly polarized. Either people are just basically going about their day like nothing is happening or they’re being super cautious.

  29. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    It may be possible for the employee to receive PUA benefits during the quarantine period. Not full pay, but not nothing either.
    And then you can have the discussion about social distancing and decide whether another person can better meet the needs of your business.

  30. Ali*

    Regardless of firing, please keep in mind the false negative rate of testing. He could definitely have COVID and test negative.

  31. Adrienne*

    I don’t think this was reckless. I think it was people prioritizing the health of an elderly person over a job. It was a judgement call that could have gone a couple of ways, but the path of most care for the people in his life was taken. I find that responsible on a personal, human level.

  32. Manana*

    While frustrating, he and his girlfriend had to make a choice and they chose to prioritize her grandmother’s health. Should she have gone to the party? Maybe not, but perhaps she wore a mask and stayed outside and still caught it. Also, HE did not attend the party. So ultimately your employee had to make a choice between the health of an elderly person and his job because of his girlfriend’s actions. That’s a tough spot to be in and I think he tried to be as honest with you as possible in a bad scenario. Further, he is not responsible for the losses your business has faced, Covid did that, and he and his family are suffering like everyone else. You cannot place that responsibility on him, if you truly are a family business in the way you describe then you have to see that everyone is in this together, even the people in your employees’ lives that are not on the payroll that neither you nor they have any control over. If he’s been a good employee up until now, I think it’s worth exploring other options than firing him.

  33. NW Mossy*

    While I can empathize with the anger, it bears some reflection if some portion of it is a safety-valve outlet for the much larger stress of your whole business being on the brink. Yes, his absence could be the tipping factor, but it sounds like you’re just in such a precarious position financially right now that many different events could knock things into a spiral you can’t come out of.

    It’s an unfortunate reality that microbusinesses are the most vulnerable in a global crisis like this. You just don’t have the reserves, resources, and borrowing capacity that bigger organizations do. While your business may not make it and a personal bankruptcy may also result, that’s ultimately not your employee’s fault. He’s one small piece of a much bigger issue that no one person can control.

    1. Reba*

      Well put.

      It sounds like OP’s business is on a knife edge. I can’t imagine the strain. But it seems like this is kind of a “shoot the messenger” situation (imperfect analogy) — directing anger at the employee specifically rather than or in addition to the general pandemic situation.

      Just as OP feels stretched and with no good alternatives, many many people are feeling that they have no good options to deal with the situations that are arising.

  34. Suggestion*

    Is it an option to have a conversation, and split the damage, like the employee has to go unpaid for 2 weeks while he quarantines, so you can use the money to pay a sub? But then you hire him back after that? Because he acted not perfectly, but understandably.

  35. Anna*

    I was within weeks of signing a lease with my boyfriend when COVID hit. If either of us had gotten COVID, we likely would have tried to quarantine together. The OP doesn’t mention the details on the employee’s relationship with his girlfriend. I think the outrage about an employee not isolating from someone they’ve been in a relationship with for 3-months would be very different compared to a 3-year relationship. The employee doesn’t seem to have acted irresponsibly in this situation.

  36. KP*

    This doesn’t read as “reckless” to me. From my viewpoint, it looks like harm reduction.

    Given how contagious this virus is and given the intimate nature of a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, it’s reasonable to assume that he was infected too. And when you take into account that the grandmother is more likely to die if she catches it, it makes sense for the girlfriend to quarantine with the boyfriend.

    For most people, your girlfriend’s grandmother’s life is more important than your job. This isn’t something that was done to harm your business. Make the decisions you need to make, but this wasn’t a personal affront to you. He wasn’t reckless and I don’t think it’s fair to describe it that way.

  37. Ellen*

    I think the headline on this post is misleading. The employee didn’t “intentionally” expose himself — he learned that he had already been exposed! I agree with everyone else saying that staying with your employee rather than her elderly grandmother (!) was a responsible decision by the girlfriend.

    Playing the blame game with COVID infections (or ANY illness) isn’t a good or useful thing to do. No one in this scenario deliberately exposed themselves or lied about an exposure; in fact, your employee went out of his way to be honest with you about the circumstances, probably knowing that there was a personal risk to him in doing so. Don’t punish him for doing so by firing him (!!!).

    1. WFH & Lovin' it*

      I 100% agree – I think the title of this post is extremely misleading! I am surprised at Alison leaving it that way and her answer about the boyfriend being irresponsible. There is so much about the timeline and each person’s living situation we don’t know. What we DO know is that his SO got sick, it’s reasonable to assume he caught it from her, and she didn’t want to exposure her ELDERLY GRANDMOTHER. He should quarantine for the minimum 2 weeks anyway because he could be a false positive.

      We can’t start firing people just for getting sick in a global pandemic.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Eh, I think my headlines are normally pretty dry summations of the question. I see why people disagree with this one, but I think quarantining with someone who has symptoms is indeed intentionally exposing yourself.

          1. librarienne*

            But Alison, that’s shifting blame on a huge segment of the population– an outside proportion of which are Black and Brown– who literally have no other option. It’s disingenuous and ascribes agency and choice when so many people do not have agency or choice. Oooo I’m steamed about this one. It’s a microcosm of how many people and politicians blame the working class/poor/BIPOC for their level of coronavirus when really they are forced into terrible choices by being poor, essential workers, lacking childcare, etc.

            1. pancakes*

              It’s only a good microcosm of those issues if those same issues are present here. I don’t see any particular reason to believe they are.

          2. Cat*

            He was exposed before that though. It says he continued to quarantine with her precisely because they had both been exposed. Intentionally continued to expose might be more accurate but honestly, I’m a little surprised by the level of judgment levied against this guy. Most of us are in a situation where we don’t have any good options right now. That’s a systemic failure, not an individual one.

            I mean, we could be questioning why a business that had most of its work crater is having people come in at all, but there’s not really any point to that either.

          3. Ann Perkins*

            According to the letter, they quarantined together while they were waiting on test results and they thought they would both test positive. I don’t see at all how that’s intentionally exposing himself.

          4. Ann O. Nymous*

            But he knew he had already been exposed and figured that there was a reasonably good chance that he had already contracted the virus. It’s estimated that nearly 25% to as much as 50% of American families do not have even a few hundred bucks in savings for emergency situations. MANY people, and especially low-income people, do not have the resources to like, go rent an Airbnb or stay in a hotel for 2 weeks to quarantine completely alone. Expecting two individuals in a relationship to quarantine separately at their own expense, ESPECIALLY when they can reasonably assume they’ve already been exposed to each other and have good reason to believe they’re both positive, is really unrealistic and comes across as ignorant of the plight of low-income Americans during this awful time, many of whom are in populations most severely affected by COVID. I’m trying to be as respectful as possible but I think some of your comments are way off the mark.

            Basically, I think the context in the letter suggests that “intentionally” signals “recklessly” or “selfishly” or “wrongfully” and I think that’s completely unfair.

          5. WFH & Lovin' it*

            “but I think quarantining with someone who has symptoms is indeed intentionally exposing yourself.”

            Alison, I don’t think we the commenters or you have enough information to make that kind of judgement on this situation. Many of us have already pointed out that quarantining together was probably the best of difficult choices they had to make while they were both getting tested.

            I feel like there is just so much confusion, anxiety, and emotions around this pandemic that we are all reacting so strongly. I worry if this is going to start something like being allowed to police what the employees do after hours now too? Because hey, employer saw you posted a picture and you were outside and they deem that irresponsible so you’re fired.

  38. Teresa*

    Not sure if this has been discussed yet – but wouldn’t this employee qualify for FFCRA leave/ pay?

    1. Commenter*

      Small business can qualify for exemptions from this. And some categories of essential workers are not covered under this. Though I can’t wrap my head around what type of business would have this employee classed as essential (and not just we as business owners thing what we do is critical).

      1. NotALawyer*

        I wish the employee was writing to Ask a manager rather than the business owner, I would love to do some legal research for this poor employee to see what, if any, legal protections he has

      2. Natalie*

        They’re can apply for an exemption, they’re not required to. FFCRA would allow them to pay for his 2 weeks of sick time and get fully reimbursed when they make their income tax withholding deposit. And if they don’t have enough cash to float that for a month, they’re in much, much bigger trouble.

    2. Kabe*

      As with FMLA, small businesses (fewer than 50 employees) can claim an exemption from FFCRA if an “officer of the business” (aka, OP) determines that the employee’s absence would cause serious financial hardship/keep the business from operating.

      1. Natalie*

        The OP didn’t indicate any effect beyond the cost of sick pay, which is completely reimbursed and thus not a financial hardship.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          In comments OP has talked about having to turn down work because the employee can’t WFH and the business can’t otherwise handle the workload.

          1. pancakes*

            It’s hard to understand how and why a business would have to turn away so much work instead of hiring as needed to make it happen. If it’s located in a place where rent and labor are cheap but skilled labor is in short supply maybe that’s not a great business model. The owners also commented that they lost a lot of money on “expenses we had from jobs where we had purchased materials that later cancelled,” which makes me wonder whether they’re trying to undercut their competition by offering to eat costs that would otherwise be passed on to the client, or just not paying for legal advice they should be considering.

  39. NotALawyer*

    If I was your employee and I was fired for taking COVID leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), I would file a complaint with the department of labor or sue you tbh. I don’t think your moral indignation about him going to a party with his girlfriend gives you the right to probably violate the law by firing him. For more information about the FFCRA, please see the department of labor website:

    Also, I think it was responsible for your employee to have his girlfriend stay over instead of being with her grandmother. Every state is addressing the pandemic differently and we are a long way from other countries which provide hotel rooms for people to isolate. Our country’s awful response to the pandemic has forced people to make decisions they shouldn’t have to make. Also, people are fatigued and isolated. Although, I wouldn’t go to a party, I understand why your employee did. Also, the US is not doing contact tracing as well as other places. I think your employee’s gf could have been exposed at a party a couple weeks ago! But they and you don’t know for sure. I think the story you are telling about your employee is a way to justify a potential termination.

    You also haven’t mentioned any other workplace issues with this employee. Are they incompetent? Reckless in other ways? I understand your frustration but, besides the potential legal issues of firing an employee for following public health guidelines, I imagine that it would be difficult to train a replacement. By firing him you are creating an environment where your other employee won’t feel safe coming forward with COVID-19 information. This is not a healthy workplace environment. I don’t think any amount of beer fridges would compensate for that.

    1. NotALawyer*

      OMG it wasn’t even your employee who was risky…it was his gf who went to that party…. besides issues of illegality, that’s so unreasonable to fire him for her actions.

      1. Shramps*

        But if the employee knowing lived with or interacted or made out with his gf after she went to the party, that’s his responsibility and also considered intentional exposure?

        I’m not even trying to throw this guy under the bus, but him knowing his gf went to the party (that’s where they think she picked it up) is the potential exposure.

        I don’t think it’s worth firing him for, but I wonder if he realizes how close of a call he made to losing his job.

        1. NotALawyer*

          If the business is covered by the FFCRA, i don’t think intentional exposure is legally relevant

          1. Shramps*

            What is considered “intentional exposure”? Is there a legal definition right now?

            It seems to be confusing many people in this post, myself included!

            1. Lawyer Cat*

              Hi….I am a lawyer. “Intentional exposure” is not a thing legally. It does not matter how or why he was exposed under the FFCRA and their exemption for being a small business is just that they get reimbursed for the sick leave time they pay (among other unrelated parental leave for closed schools features). If she fires this employee, get ready for a lawsuit.

        2. Essess*

          He lived with her in order to keep her from living with an elderly grandparent who would likely die if contracting this disease. His choice was the safest option.

        1. NotALawyer*

          idk if these regulations are still in effect but: “Significantly, the FFCRA regulations explain how small business employers may elect an exemption from certain provisions of the FFCRA. This exception for small businesses is only an exception from the obligation to provide paid leave to an employee who requests leave due to school or childcare closures. Small businesses are still obligated to provide Emergency Paid Sick Leave under the FFCRA to employees who need leave because: they themselves are subject to a quarantine or an isolation order; they have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine; they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking a medical diagnosis; or they are caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine order or has been advised to quarantine. There is no exception for small businesses from this requirement. ”

    2. Hopefully not the asshole*

      OP here – I spent my entire day yesterday researching FFCRA, EEOC, CDC and all the other alphabet things to make sure we were following the law, AND doing the right thing. Our reaction to terminate was based not on his having COVID or taking the leave, but by failing to follow CDC recommendations and quarantining with someone who is not a member of his household which is covered under EEOC guidelines.

      That being said, when I wrote this letter I did not have all of the information. And certainly you have significantly less information that I do/did/will. Our reaching out to Alison in the first place was a call for help from the community to help guide us to the best way to deal with this. Alison dispenses wonderful advice consistently on the appropriate way to respond to things like this and we are taking her response and many of the comments seriously. Mission accomplished!
      I didn’t mention other workplace issues because frankly to me right now they are irrelevant. I always ask myself when considering termination if the final incident rose to the level of egregious conduct without any other incidents factoring in. Other issues we have shouldn’t play into this digression being enough to stand on it’s own as a reason for termination. For your edification, it does not.

      Thanks for your comments – they are helpful.
      PS we do fall under FFCRA and we don’t qualify for an exemption (this is not childcare related).

  40. Annony*

    I disagree with Alison. I think he behaved very responsibly. He made sure his loved one was safe and cared for while also protecting her elderly relative. I think most of us would make the same choice. I think that if the OP were not so stressed about the business that she would make the same choice as well. He shouldn’t be fired for caring about the people in his life more than he does about his job. That is normal.

    However, maybe they do need to let him go. Can the business afford to have a full time employee right now? It sounds like they may need to let him go just because they are struggling to make payroll. That sucks but it may be the right move to make. If so, give him a good reference and don’t fight unemployment.

  41. Hei Hei the Chicken from Moana*

    I have a kind-of weird COVID story and am very cringey about my decisions looking back…

    My MIL had an physical issue that required her to be hospitalized and then in a nursing/rehab facility in March/April. The rehab facility took all the necessary precautions to keep patients safe and they discharged her on a Saturday. By Wednesday, she was feeling lousy and spiked a 104 fever. So we called EMTs who took her temp and it was normal. They declined to take her to the hospital – normal at the time. Her doctor ordered a COVID test even though she had no respiratory symptoms. We were CONVINCED her symptoms were from an undiagnosed UTI, which was a common recurrence for her when she was in the hospital/rehab. We drove her to get the test and let her come back home with us b/c she’s 79 years old and needed help. She had COVID.

    We called an ambulance and had her taken to the hospital immediately and then quarantined strictly ourselves. I got sick a week later and was subsequently tested and was positive. It was very mild for me, I took four sick days from the leave act that Congress passed, and thankfully all is well. But looking back, my husband and I made the DUMBEST choices, but we were honestly trying to help. I told my boss that I was exposed and she was very kind and asked me to document some procedures in case I had to be out for a longer period of time, which was certainly reasonable.

    I guess looking back, we should have INSISTED that MIL be taken to the hospital and then barring that, taken her ourselves, and maybe not have been exposed? But we were honestly trying to help, not be reckless.

      1. Hei Hei the Chicken from Moana*

        It seems SO DUMB in hindsight b/c her symptoms were consistent with COVID. Looking back, I feel like it could seem reckless. And thank you very much!

    1. Koala dreams*

      I think it was very kind of you to take care of her and helping her get medical help. I’m not sure what you mean with the ambulance. In my country people don’t go to hospital unless they are ill enough to need hospital care, so it’s pretty typical to stay at home, being cared for by family (or a home care service) until it’s clear that hospital care is needed.

      I’m glad you feel better!

      1. Hei Hei the Chicken from Moana*

        Back in April, people who didn’t have COVID were being turned away from the hospital (we’re told, anecdotally) so when the EMTs didn’t take her, we thought they knew what they were doing. No one knew what they were doing. She should have been tested before she was released. Again, hindsight. And thank you very much. :)

        1. bluephone*

          Yeah, I don’t think you really messed up or anything. Even in hotspots back in March/April, it’s been sometimes impossible to get a test even if you were showing all the classic symptoms, had just returned from travel in known hotspots, etc. A lot of the general advice was “if you think you’re sick, self-isolate for 14 days.” So I think you did fine, given the circumstances of how poorly this has been handled by some countries.

        2. Koala dreams*

          Ah, thanks for the explanation. Don’t be too hard on yourselves, you did get her to the testing place eventually. Where I live testing access is spotty, so from my perspective you did great when you drove her to the testing place. Hindsight is everything.

        3. specialist*

          You shouldn’t be hard on yourself for this. She would have been turned away from the hospital. During that time, there was a pop up on my electronic medical record that said there was a shortage of testing materials. It was so bad that we couldn’t test people unless it would make a difference in their treatment. This is a very severe restriction. And I am not located in a hot spot…..yet.

  42. Mediamaven*

    The larger discussion that no one seems to have the answer to is how much can we police employees personal time? I hope that some guidelines start to emerge. I find myself furious when my team disregards the CDC recommendations.

  43. Sarah in Philly*

    I’m going to call pandemic on this.

    This is a crappy situation in which the employee made some decisions based on what he thought was right for his life (if he *did* have COVID, there was no reason not to be with the gf), not on what was necessarily best for the job (maintain possibility of negative status at all costs). This is a pandemic. There is no handbook for this.

    I don’t know the specifics of your time off allowances, but I think you could tell him he has to use his own sick or vacation time since he got sick on personal time (as opposed to on work time). If you really can’t afford to do that, tell him you’re going to pay him as much as you can, but that deadlines are happening and you don’t know what funds you’ll have available. Frankly, it sounds like he is someone who was not perfect, but is a good employee and was transparent and honest with you. I’d try to do the right thing as much as possible.

    And then I would reach out to all of your clients and say, “As you know, we are a very small businesses. Unfortunately, one of our employees was exposed to COVID and will have to be out a while. Can we negotiate a new deadline for the deliverable?”

    People might be surprised or disappointed, but everyone should understand.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      Yes – all of this.

      The OP is upset they lost an employee, but the employee was considering other things besides his job.

      OP needs to cool off a bit, and then decide what they are willing to do for this employee. Don’t be spiteful – try to come up with the best solution for both of you. If you need to let him go with severance so that. If you need to to put him on leave and hire a lot temp, so that.

      Choosing your loved ones over a job isn’t always “irresponsible”.

    2. One Person Payroll Dept*

      Yeah, right. My industry is driven by a zillion super short deadlines, and some people have been understanding, but a great many have not. “That’s not my problem” was the exact wording a client used to our business recently.

  44. CrazyEight*

    Another thing to consider is that the employee did in fact have contact with someone who tested positive. I know they initially followed CDC guidelines for someone with an unconfirmed exposure, but even if they had quarantined separately, once her test came back positive, the employers now need to follow the guidelines on their employee having a confirmed exposure which I believe would still have the employee quarantined for a period of time. Also, he tested negative on the day he took it, but based on his exposure to his girlfriend if he’d taken the test (while still being separated from his girlfriend) a day later or two days later he could have tested positive.

    1. Commenter*

      These quarantine guidelines may not apply to this person if truly classed as essential in their state.

  45. An American(ish) Werewolf in London*

    I think, assuming we take this exactly as read (which we absolutely should), the OP should not fire her employee.

    However, I think we’re being a bit harsh (emotionally) on the OP. I’m reading panic here, rather than cruelty. She’s really, really worried about the state of her business and the health of her family. That doesn’t make her ire necessarily right, but to me, it does make it understandable.

    I think the OP needs to take a deep breath along with her husband and then talk about how to deal with the next two weeks (because yes, he utterly should self-isolate for 2 weeks), talking to the employee as well.

    I really hope it turns out ok for you and your business , OP and for the employee. I have a friend who had no comorbidities (mid 50s, healthy) who got VERY ill from COVID – just short of ventilation. He’s still poorly and is likely to be unfit for his profession forever (he’s a prison officer). I hope (by some chance) he doesn’t have COVID, that his GF recovers and you guys weren’t exposed.

    Peace and health.

    1. Annony*

      I agree. I don’t think the OP is a bad person who doesn’t care that her employees girlfriend is sick. I think she is laser focused on trying to make her business survive and frustrated by this latest obstacle. Most likely she will be horrified by her assumption that the girlfriend should expose her grandmother instead of the employee once she is able to take a step back and see the big picture. This is a difficult time and there are many competing needs. It can be hard to keep things in perspective.

    2. Hopefully not the asshole*

      Op here – thanks for your kindness and I hope your friend comes out of this ok!
      I also truly hope for the health and wellness of my employee, his GF and her grandma. I am mortified that people think I would wish harm on anyone, especially the elderly. I haven’t seem my own grandmother for months now because of this and likely won’t get to see her for at least another 3 months.

  46. Batty Twerp*

    So, question(s). Nothing in your letter suggests you think he was lying apart from the “allegedly his doctor” comment, only that he maybe wasn’t as responsible as you think he should have been. What would you have had him do differently? He reported a possible (initial) exposure, which ended up being a negative for him and a positive for his girlfriend, but it’s the secondary exposure (quarantining with said girlfriend before the test results came back) that is leading you to want to fire him?

    I get the financial impact, I’m just trying to work out at what point he crossed the line in your view? The “knowingly” exposing himself by quarantining himself with another possible exposee before he actually *knew* the test results? Being in the vicinity of his girlfriend after she’d been at a party? Ok – this one is the sticky bit, because party attendance right now is reckless, but that’s her recklessness, not his unless he knew she was going to attend and didn’t try to talk her out of going. Even then, she has agency – his possible actions here would be to have not met up with his girlfriend for 14 days after the party. If she was asymptomatic after 14 days, he’s still not intentionally exposing himself to a carrier if she got a cough on day 15.

    I think it’s worth just checking the wording here – which of his actions were intentional?

    1. Hopefully not the asshole*

      Op here – that wasn’t my wording and I never said he was lying or dishonest. I used the word allegedly because I didn’t talk to his doctor directly, so I have no idea what they said. It’s contrary to what I know about quarantine and exposure and I wasn’t willing to accept that piece of info as Gospel because I genuinely don’t know the answer. Thanks for commenting and I am sorry the wording of certain things have muddied the waters.

  47. Audrey Puffins*

    Not really the point at all, but if this employee is going to be out for a couple of weeks, is it possible for the part-time employee to temporarily put in more hours to help cover the gap? Yeah, they’d probably need their wage increased for the period so it might not be the biggest help, financially, but it’s got to be a little more immediate than hiring a new person or bringing a temp up to speed. (Or even, as you’re at 1.5 post-COVID employees, does that mean there are people you had to let go who might be willing to cover? Again, they’d still need paying, and they might not want to, but it could be worth exploring depending on circumstances.)

  48. Commenter*

    Small business can qualify for exemptions from this. And some categories of essential workers are not covered under this. Though I can’t wrap my head around what type of business would have this employee classed as essential (and not just we as business owners thing what we do is critical).

  49. Senor Montoya*

    People who are whacking at the OP for not having enough employees:

    Come on. How many small, family businesses have redundant employees? OP’s business may not be solid enough YET to have more employees. OP may be losing $ due to the pandemic and can’t afford to hire more employees. OR — OP’s business may have ramped up due to the pandemic.

    Seriously, people, OP is not an AH for having staffing issues in a very small family business in the middle of a pandemic.

    Re the question OP actually asked: No, OP, you are NTAH for feeling angry. Firing your employee would be an AH move, because I think he made the best decision under the circumstances (as many other commenters have pointed out).

    1. One Person Payroll Dept*

      As much as I overall love AAM, this is a major bias on this site. The general consensus here seems to be that business owners should have lots of cash sitting around in boxes or something “just in case” and plenty of redundant employees so there’s always somebody extra to cover, and if they don’t they are crummy business owners who should just close down and forget it. Having spent my entire life in small business (I work in an industry that is largely small businesses, and my dad owned a family business) this is completely alien to me.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        For the record, I agree with you (and see that same theme in the comments and think it’s unrealistic, particularly around redundant employees).

      2. a clockwork lemon*

        If your business is running so lean that one person (more specifically, the one person who does not in fact have an ownership interest in the business) being out of the office for two weeks will literally result in the business needing to shutter permanently, then your business isn’t sustainable as operated and you shouldn’t have employees.

        1. One Person Payroll Dept*

          Perfect illustration of what I said. The business owner has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the pandemic. This employee suddenly being out is just one more blow. This really does happen. The operating costs of a business are usually enormous. One downturn can blow through months’ worth of operating capital.

          Also, in a business that requires a certain number of people to perform tasks on constant short deadlines can have their output crippled by being short staffed. This isn’t like one of those office jobs where you can take a day off and your work just waits for you. Say you have people bringing you llamas to groom all day. There has been no decrease during the pandemic, for reasons we can’t fathom. One person is trimming their hair while another is filing their hooves. The hoof trimmer guy is out unexpectedly, so the hair trimming guy is doing both. Everybody expects their llamas to be ready at the usual time. Now you have fewer people running around working like crazy, but not making any more money and probably less.

          (I’m not really a payroll person-that’s my side gig. The scenario in paragraph one happened at that gig during the financial crisis. My real job is pretty close to an actual llama groomer, and paragraph two is my work life every day for the past 5 months.)

      3. pancakes*

        That’s just one facet of an assortment of unrealistic ideas about how money works, though. I was a small business owner for a couple years earlier in my career, after my boss who was a sole proprietor died and a couple other employees and I raised funding and bought his company, and I don’t have nearly as much trouble with this particular assumption as I do with the even-more widespread belief that evictions should resume. Businesses, even small ones, generally have a lot more resources available to them than individual unemployed renters do right now.

    2. Koala dreams*

      I don’t think it’s reasonable for a small business to hire extra permanent employees, but it’s good to have temps that can hop in. You need to cultivate those connections so that you have a few people you can call if you need too. It could be students, retired employees (before the pandemic at least), other businesses who could rent out their employees as contractors (temp agencies as well as regular businesses that might not be busy at the same time). With so few employees, you’ll need some plan for unexpected absences. A larger business can shift work to the remaining employees and have them work overtime, but with only a couple of employees that’s impossible.

  50. Belle*

    Another thing to consider is that it will most likely be longer than two weeks for quarantining. If he is still near someone who is positive, then his two week period for quarantining hasn’t started. He would need to stay away from her for that to start – otherwise he could still get it while near her and this extends the quarantine timeframe.

  51. MicroManagered*

    I’m leaning toward YTA (since OP phrased it that way). Your title makes it sound like he went to a COVID party. Your employee could’ve been exposed to COVID any number of ways and it sounds like they were trying to do the responsible thing. It was probably reasonable for him to assume, if his girlfriend had it, that he did too. Firing him sounds spiteful.

    1. Hopefully not the asshole*

      OP here! Unfortunately that wasn’t my title. Editorial addition! My title was just “covid exposure – am I the asshole?” hopefully self-aware enough to show that we know there are so many ways to look at this outside of our own. And hey, we asked for advice (and boy did we get it!) Maybe we get points for being woke enough to know that we don’t know everything and our reactions shouldn’t rule the day?

  52. lazy intellectual*

    Am I missing something about the employee behaving irresponsibly? It sounds like his gf was the one who went to the party (the irresponsible thing to do), but she decided to move out of her grandmothers place (the right thing to do.)

    The employee then chose to assume he had COVID so he could take his gf in and called into work saying he can’t come in.

    Now, if you’re business can’t afford to pay him for his time off and you have to fire him, that’s your call. But there is a lot of gray area in saying he was irresponsible and “intentionally” exposes himself to COVID.

    It was responsible of him to not come into work and infect everyone else. It seems like he was closely monitoring the situation, tracing the virus, etc. However, it does seem like he had a difficult decision to make – allow his gf to live with her grandmother or take her in (assuming the only third option is to leave her on the street).

    I’m not against judging someone’s responsibility based on their actions around COVID (like if this guy flounced off to Disney World and then came into the office .) But we should appreciate that decisions during these times aren’t always easy.

  53. Helvetica*

    On top of everything that’s been said above, to me, the headline is incredibly misleading and definitely predisposed me to be on the business owner’s side of things. Which is why the content of the post surprised me and made me read the post three times to find the place where the employee *intentionally* exposed himself to COVID-19. I know we’re not meant to nitpick word choices but I think this is one case where Alison could change the headline as the content does not reflect what it seems to imply.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      Yep the headline was super misleading (thought eye catching). Glad I’m not the only one scratching their head at the “irresponsible” part.

      Like, I guess it’s “irresponsible” if you think this person should put work at the center of all their decisions, but *I* don’t expect that of people.

  54. phira*

    Alison, I don’t think this is the right read on the situation! It’s not unreasonable for him to have assumed that either he and his girlfriend would both test positive or that they would both test negative. He also doesn’t seem to have lied at any point: he reported that his girlfriend might be positive, they both got tested, and he was feeling sick. There’s even a chance that he is positive and got a false negative result.

    It’s also not unreasonable, given that it was a reasonable assumption that he and his girlfriend were both positive or both negative, that they would quarantine together. She wouldn’t want to expose her grandmother and he wouldn’t want to expose his parents. Were they each supposed to get a hotel room? I’m just not sure that this was irresponsible as it’s being painted.

    It’s awful that government bailouts and support for small business has been downright abysmal, and I don’t doubt that this is going to be a huge hardship, but I think that the owners should treat this situation as they would have if he had tested positive, or that this was a false negative, or that he had been exposed in some other way. Firing this guy–who has been pretty upfront about the whole situation–seems unreasonable.

    1. Essess*

      Agreed! This was my reaction too. I felt they were being extremely responsible to keep her from exposing her elderly grandmother and he kept his employer informed of any information that he had.

  55. Essess*

    His girlfriend needed to quarantine. Her options were his place or stay with her grandmother. It is pretty likely this disease will kill her grandmother so her other choice was to stay with him. I’m assuming she can’t afford to stay at a hotel for 2 full weeks. So firing him really does seem like an AH move since he was keeping someone from infecting their elderly family.

  56. Marissa*

    I would just like to say that false negatives are really common, especially for pre-symptomatic people, and its highly likely he would have tested positive at a later date even if he hadn’t spent the weekend with the girlfriend. I’m not sure what doctor is saying he should go back in 5 days, but that seems really inconsistent with everything I have read about how this disease works. He shouldn’t come back to work. If you cannot afford that, then you should let him go, but I don’t think you should do that based on his actions. People continue to be confused about how all of this works, there’s a lot of different info out there, and it sounds like they were trying to protect the grandma.

    1. Reba*

      Re: the five days. It may be counting days from presumed exposure date (so at date of OP writing, it’s less than the 14 days). It could also have to do with different standards for essential workers which are in play in some areas.

  57. cpa in the trees*

    I think the employee did the right thing. He communicated what was going on as it happened. He and his girlfriend made a choice to attempt to keep an elderly person safe. That was the right thing to do. I imagine it was a hard choice since she is now living with him AND his parents (putting them at risk) which I am guessing are older but not elderly. They only had crappy options to choose from. If he is feeling well, able to distance himself, wear a mask and practice extensive hygiene measures perhaps he could return to work. We are in a global pandemic, people are dying. Unlesss your state/locality goes into a lock-down status, you should count your lucky stars that your business can remain open at all. Are you eligible for PPP funds or other assistance? If your business hinges on one individual, then you were in a bad spot to begin with. Now think of it from his point of view, if you and your family were to get terribly ill. HIS job would be at risk with no recourse. HIS livelihood could be taken from him with little notice. Your business, your family and your money are not in a bubble. We are all at risk. People are making hard choices to stay afloat, you might have to do the same.

  58. CTT*

    “I am also extremely angry that their lack of precaution is seeping into my business”

    This stuck out at me; “they” are not your employees, he is. She definitely acted irresponsibly going to a party, but your employee didn’t attend. That he didn’t go shows that he is taking precautions. Like a lot of people have said, it sounds like he was trying to make the best out of a bad situation so the grandmother could quarantine alone as the higher-risk individual.

  59. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Fire him as soon as you are legally able to. This pandemic has been going on for months, it’s been front and centre on every newscast and on every form of media 24/7. Ignorance is not an excuse.

    1. Save the Hellbender*

      What specific action of his do you think demonstrates fireable behavior? It was his girlfriend who went to the party, not him

  60. Werd Nerd*

    I agree with most of the commenters here and was surprised at Alison’s reaction. The title IS misleading. I thought it was going to be one of those cases where everyone went to a Covid-19 party or he was trying to get out of work. I don’t see the recklessness here nor cause for firing, nor that he intentionally exposed himself.

  61. Pandemic Parenting is Miserable*

    I think this is on you, not your employee. It’s actually quite hard to quarantine away from high risk people you live with, and I believe the greatest influence on developing COVID is exposure time so the GF leaving her elderly grandma is probably the only responsible choice she made. Testing is not definitive. Tests miss 3/10 cases so your employee could very well be positive with no symptoms.

    My husband had a sore throat two weeks ago, had a negative test result, and literally spent 10 days in our backyard (slept in a tent) bc I am pregnant and higher risk. My toddler and I are still in a 14 day quarantine in case we develop symptoms. There’s a lot of privilege assumed in quarantine instructions – every healthcare provider told him to go sleep in our spare room and use our spare bathroom. We are lucky to have a yard but only have a 2 bd 1 bath apartment. My husband’s small business (bigger than yours but small) paid him through CARES act funding – are you eligible for any of those programs? This pandemic is going nowhere so you need a longer term plan.

    1. Avocado Toast*

      +1 to the privilege aspect of quarantine. I keep seeing the spare room/separate bathroom advice and I’m baffled that people think that’s universally something people have access to.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*


        The only reason we have two bathrooms in my house is because of illegal remodels. We recently had an exposure scare and my roomie had to quarantine from the rest of us. We minimized contact, wore masks in the house, cleaned the heck out of every common surface multiple times a day, and put one bathroom entirely for her use. We don’t have any spare bedrooms – we’re full up.

        How the heck a couple in a 1 br 1 ba apartment is supposed to quarantine from each other is a complete mystery to me.

  62. Emily Elizabeth*

    Really disappointed in AAM’s take that he behaved irresponsibly. It’s completely reasonable for them not to want to continue to expose the grandmother! They had long term exposure to each other, of course they quarantined together. Our delayed results testing system is not their fault. Should the girlfriend have gone to a hotel that she probably can’t afford and risk exposing more people there? In what way could they have been more “responsible” here? I guess the girlfriend shouldn’t have gone to the party, but that’s not on the employee. In some states a small gathering is allowed right now, so even that to me, while I wouldn’t do it, it’s not beyond the pale that after months of isolation she would go see friends. And the employee clearly should not have told the boss how she was exposed, she could have gotten it getting groceries. The OP view of it being nonessential activity that led to exposure is clearly coloring her feelings about it.

  63. bananab*

    Seems like if he’s so indispensable that his being out is a business disaster then he’s not so dispensable that he should be fired for this. I do think there’s too much riding on this one guy and wonder what would happen if he needed extended time off for any other fairly normal reason, like bereavement or something.

  64. Gatomon*

    This really smacks to me of the OP looking to scapegoat her employee for the damage to her business. I don’t see what the employee did that would be a fireable offense. Not everyone has their own place to hole up for a two 2 week quarantine by themselves and sometimes we have to make the least bad choice.

    We’re also a good 4 months into this, and if the business can’t handle this situation I feel like that’s a failure on the business. This was bound to happen at some point and a plan should’ve been in place to handle critical work and to cover the financial hole (via whatever assistance is available or raising regular prices, temp help, etc.) to ensure business continuity. Blaming the employee for the inevitable because there is no plan is unreasonable. And then your left to hire and train a new person who is an unknown quantity – how do you know the new person will be any less likely to be exposed?

    1. blackcat*

      “This really smacks to me of the OP looking to scapegoat her employee for the damage to her business.”
      Yup. People keep blaming each other for this, but really the anger needs to be directed at our government for not protecting people.

  65. Basma26*

    I would cut him some slack, and treat it as if he did behave responsibly. He made some bad mistakes, absolutely. However, it’s such a confusing time right now and it can be really hard to navigate what the best choice is. Mistakes are inevitable, and I think understandable. For example, if there was a trade-off between a) potential impacts to your business because the girlfriend was with him, and b) exposing her grandma because she was with her, then that puts them into a really difficult situation. Especially if they assumed their results would match. Honestly, from the employee’s perspective, I’m not sure that these types of decisions should be putting your business interests above loved ones’ health and safety. And I commend his honesty. I don’t think it merits a firing.

  66. Scooter*

    I was quite surprised to see Alison describe the employee’s behaviour as ‘so reckless’. I almost always agree with AAM’s judgment but to me it seems like the employee made the least-bad choice in a bad situation (girlfriend attending a party notwithstanding, which was outside the employee’s control).
    Does anyone a suggestion as to how the employee should have behaved?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      He shouldn’t have been around his girlfriend after she was such a dimwit and went to a party. That’s his only real mistake here but now he’s being the good-guy taking the bullet and possibly losing his job because he’s dating a moron…

  67. ELM*

    I don’t think he did anything wrong. I think you are over-reacting, and firing him will help the situation – how, exactly? I get that businesses have lost money during these times – I run one, too – but keep your staff, pay them what you are owe, and if you want them to stay away when they are sick, then pay them sick leave.

  68. rehtaej*

    Suggesting that someone be fired for admitting they were exposed and quarantining is a really good way to ensure that employees will lie about it and go to work unless they are too sick to work.

  69. Almost Empty Nester*

    He gave you context that you weren’t really entitled to, but he gave it. I understand that, as you said, you can’t “unknow” what you already know, but would you feel differently if he’d advised you that he picked the virus up from his girlfriend who got it from the grocery store while doing the weekly marketing?

  70. Emma*

    I wouldn’t fire someone for trying to help his girlfriend’s grandparents avoid COVID, which was the intention here.

  71. Arctic*

    This attitude is why this Covid-19 isn’t going to really go away anytime soon.

    Why should employees ever be honest with their employers? This guy would have personally been better off had he just shown up knowing he had been exposed. But he did the right thing and now you are going to can him. He won’t do the right thing next time. Many people who are reading this but aren’t regular commenters aren’t going to do the right thing now.

  72. HA2*

    OK, so I’m not seeing where exactly the employee acted irresponsibly here.

    His girlfriend was irresponsible by going to a party, for sure. But that’s not him; doesn’t seem right to say he’s irresponsible, in a work context, for who he’s dating.

    After potentially being exposed, he had to quarantine… …but the question of course is quarantine with who, and where, because of course they don’t have a spare individual apartment for every person. He chose to quarantine with his girlfriend – which in my mind makes sense, because if she’s the one who exposed him and he’s already feeling sick, this minimizes the chance of exposing anyone else. Certainly makes more sense than quarantining with his (older!) parents or his girlfriend’s (even older!) grandmother.

    So yeah, this sucks. It sucks for him to get sick and covid-exposed, and for your business, and for his girlfriend and his family. Pandemics suck!

    But if you fire him… what, exactly, would you put in your job requirements to get someone “better”? Are you going to look for someone who lives alone, with no reckless relatives to expose him? That’s not something you can really hire for.

    1. anonanna*

      right? this is a bad situation all around but the employee is not responsible and shouldn’t be fired.

  73. Fabulous*

    While I agree with Alison’s comment that if the guy still ended up testing positive or in a situation where he needed the two-week quarantine would be disastrous for your business, that part isn’t his fault, but I don’t think he behaved recklessly at all considering the circumstances and I can’t get behind the idea of firing this guy for this.

    His girlfriend lived with her grandma, who is statistically more likely to contract the virus, and he lived with his parents who are also presumably at an age where statistically it’s more likely to contract the virus. Assuming they were together prior to getting tested, it makes more sense for them to quarantine together than in their respective homes where there are higher-risk individuals.

  74. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    When you had him get tested and quarantine, did you provide him with a policy of what that entailed? I understand being pissed about this (I have no tolerance for people who are behaving as if this virus is no big deal), but unless you told him what exactly was expected of him, I’m not sure firing him would be justified if you didn’t lay it out beforehand. Many people lack basic common sense, so to protect yourselves, you need to spell it out with no room for interpretation.

    1. MicroManagered*

      How did he behave as if the virus is no big deal? When he realized he’d been in contact with someone who likely had the virus, he notified his employer, got tested, and quarantined until he had results. Ideally they’d have quarantined separately, but it sounds like she may have gone to his place to stay away from her grandmother.

  75. Person from the Resume*

    The LW should not fire him. The LW needs to have him stay home from work 2 week after last exposure to GF or have a negative COVID test results from 5 days after last exposure to GF. Of course now, what about his parents whom the GF lived with for a while having COVID? They could be a vector now too. So maybe two weeks after GF left his house/is recovered. So maybe the LW needs to tell her BF he needs to get truly isolating ASAP so he can return ASAP.

    If LW’s business can’t afford to pay him for these sick days, they can’t. That sucks for him. I’d hope the CARES act could support that kind of sick leave for COVID exposure.

    The LW needs to consider that her business appears to operating on a razors edge and she can blame this on her employee’s poor decisions, but if this is rampant in the community essential day to day life tasks can expose a person. Or what if he was injured or sick from something else. It sounds like she needs more employees (at least part time ones) because a booming busy business should be able to afford that.

  76. Koala dreams*

    Many small businesses have closed in the last seven months, and many people have fallen ill because of the pandemic. You are lucky in having avouded those things up to now, but a lucky run won’t go on forever.

    If your business truly can’t afford this situation, then you need to figure out how to close the business with the least damages. Yes, it will mean firing/laying off employees, and a lot of other hard decisions, but the longer you wait, the worse it gets.

    If you can afford to go on, then you need to think about what difference it would make to fire this employee. Any employee you hire could get sick, and there are also the costs of hiring, training and the potential reputation loss of firing someone because their girlfriend is ill. Is it worth it? Does it make sense for your business?

  77. blackcat*

    As someone who got a negative test before testing positive, I really land on the side of the employee here.
    GF was stupid and went to a party. Okay. I wouldn’t, and I’m pissed at people who do, but the reality is many people are making bad decisions right now, and I’m not willing to label them all reckless and bad people. Lots of folks have been misinformed by false information on the internet.

    GF had, presumably, already exposed him and grandma. She has a choice to *further expose* either him or grandma. If he’s healthy, they made the right choice in putting him at further risk! Total exposure matters both for chances of getting the disease AND for the severity if you do get it. Lowering grandma’s exposure was 100% the right call.

    OP’s business was not BF’s first concern in all of this. I’d frankly, think he was an asshole if he put the business interests of his boss ahead of the life if his partner’s grandmother.

    1. AllerDerm*

      This! Presumably he was already sick so if grandma didn’t already have symptoms that’s just one more tally in the “stay with boyfriend” column. I’d have done the same thing in his shoes.

  78. employment lawyah*

    Talk to a lawyer ASAP.

    If you can fire him, you probably should. But you may not be able to fire him without immense risk, because it IS NOT at all clear whether the covid-work laws make any exception for intentional exposure.

    1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      Why would OP want to fire him now? What’s done is done and he will now be immune (I know this is not 100% certain but it’s more likely than a newly hired, never infected replacement employee). There was a NYT article about people going out of their way to find and hire COVID recovered nannies.

  79. redwinemom*

    I haven’t read ALL the comments, but as far as needing the employee to work… try to see if other scenarios are possible. As an example, if he isn’t ill, perhaps he could work in the evenings and only during the day when the part-time employee is not there. Or, have him work in a different part of the building.
    Good luck.

  80. Minority opinion*

    I’m surprised no one is pointing this out, so I guess I will: the CDC has guidance for how to appropriately quarantine in shared living spaces. The girlfriend could have done so at home, or could have done so elsewhere. Assuming they both had it already and hanging out together while waiting for test results is NOT what’s supposed to happen, and the employee made bad choices.

    Yes, it’s a pandemic. That means our health is in the hands of the people we’re in contact with. With a small business where people can’t work remotely, that means you have to be able trust your employees. Even on best reading, this guy (1) chose to socialize with someone who irresponsibly went to a party (clearly against public health guidance) and (2) didn’t try to control the spread once the girlfriend was infected by taking appropriate precautions (again, not following guidance). I have no qualms saying it’s fine to fire him.

    People making these kinds of unnecessary, irresponsible choices are why the US still has a raging epidemic and people are dying by the thousands while other countries followed the rules and are more under control. For those saying he didn’t know things/the girlfriend didn’t know things – you’re right, they didn’t, that’s why the public health guidance tells you we’re supposed to act as though people at parties are infected and that you should isolate alone or take precautions in shared spaces. Even with the information he had, he made bad choices. Losing his job is a lot smaller an impact than people potentially dying because he kept it and kept making bad decisions.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Your first paragraph is what bothers me the most for everyone defending his behavior. Sure they may have wanted to save the grandmother from being exposed further, but I guarantee they did not quarantine appropriately before they got their results. And making an assumption that they both had it is utter and complete bullshit. Once she found out someone at the party tested positive, she should have quarantined herself until she got tested and stayed away from everyone.

      1. bluephone*

        Okay but what exactly does “staying away from everyone” entail? We’ve seen even on here that quarantining within your own home may not be as cut and dried as experts think it is. What kind of housing situation are the GF and grandparents (or employee and his parents) living in? A large McMansion with multiple bathrooms and bedrooms, across 3 floors, with a furnished basement, separate garage entrance, kitchen plus kitchenette, etc? A 2 bedroom, 1 bath shotgun house from 1929 that’s in rough shape? A 2BR, 1.5 bath apartment? Are all the bedrooms actually usable as bedrooms? Are all the bathrooms in fully functioning order? I’ve mentioned upthread about the issues I might face if myself or anyone in my household had to self-quarantine, even amongst each other.

        I don’t want to make this a “not everyone can eat sandwiches!!!” situation but like, should the guy’s girlfriend have lived in her car for 2 weeks? Does she have a car to live in??? She still needs to get/prepare food, bathe, toilet, etc so does she get a Planet Fitness membership and eat out at McDonald’s the whole time? And then wind up exposing those employees? Some people have moved into their backyards during self-isolation. Okay except it’s summer in a lot of countries which means 95 degree days, 85 degree nights (my area has had 100-degree heat waves for 2 weeks now), bugs, etc. Not everyone has a backyard or the equipment to sleep out there. Lots of yards have skunks at night. People in major cities don’t have yards and/or they’re dealing with other stuff right now that would maybe not go well with “camp in the yard until your 14 days are up” scenarios–protests, police action, drug sales, violence, the weird fireworks situations, no yard at all, etc. A major city near me is having a trash pickup crisis so the trash bags and garbage cans have been piling up in every neighborhood for 3 weeks now– in a heat wave. Who wants to camp out next to swarms of flies, maggots, and raccoons feasting on heat-baked garbage for 14 nights in a row, while also sweating to death? I live in a “safe” area with a roomy (unfenced) backyard and side yard but we get skunks, pest bugs (mosquitoes, spotted lanternflies, etc), pest animals (mice, squirrels, stray dogs) all night long. We also get the neighborhood teens sitting among our bushes (they border the sidewalk) drinking ’40s and vaping all night. That’s totally what I want to camp out next to while possibly being COVID-symptomatic! The neighborhood cops would totally not be weirded out to see me pitching a tent (that I don’t have) in my yard every night for 2 weeks, as they drive by on their hourly checks, when they’re already cranky.

    2. Cat*

      It’s extraordinarily naive to assume that most people are in shared living spaces where they can quarantine effectively. Every public health expert I’ve seen weigh in on this has cited those guidelines has a major reason things have gone so badly in the U.S. context. You’re putting a systemic failure on an individual. There should be separate government-funded quarantine spaces set up and there’s not. THAT has been what has been effective in other countries.

      The idea that THIS guy is the one who’s causing pandmeic deaths and not our absolutely atrocious government response – including self-serving and disingenuous guidance from the CDC – is pretty appalling.

      1. bluephone*

        Word, seriously, to all of this. OP and her employee are trying the best they can, given the crappy circumstances they’re in, compounded by a government’s stunning lack of competent response to a global health crisis. It all sucks but like…everyone is in an “it all sucks” position right now too.

      2. blackcat*

        “You’re putting a systemic failure on an individual.”


        I live in a part of the US where if you don’t have a place to quarantine at home safely, you can probably find a spot in a program to put you in a hotel. It used to be dorms, but I think they’re not doing that anymore since students are coming back. I’m sure this has had an impact on keeping our numbers much lower than most of the US.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          And let’s not even talk about that whole *students are coming back* thing (bangs head on wall)

          1. blackcat*

            Oh, trust me, I am majorly banging my head against the wall about the THOUSANDS of out of state students coming back *TO MY NEIGHBORHOOD.* I will no longer be shopping at my closet grocery store, that’s for sure!

  81. ...*

    If you do fire him, would you have the replacement sign a contract about out of work behavior to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Why? You can fire him without a contract, you can’t hold them liable for the money they’re out or something like that, that’s not how employment law works.

      1. ...*

        I know I was kind of pointing out that the OP is being ridiculous in thinking they can legislate someones behavior that much, and it would be silly to try to get your employee to basically shelter in place exclusively except for work because you can’t afford to pay them.

  82. bren220*

    I don’t think this employee acted at all irresponsibly. I think he is doing the same exact thing that every single one of us are doing–navigating health, mental health, relationships and so much more at an unprecedented time. I would argue that he actually acted responsibly.

  83. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is standard for having employees you depend so heavily on at that size of a business. I’ve seen some really really really bad decision making by some folks that we really depend on, I’ll just leave it at that.

    I wouldn’t fire him. That’s hasty. I’d let him know that this is the only screw up he’s going to get and he’s on watch moving forward. Then just ride the shitty wave of the 2 weeks or so that you’re going to be eating payroll.

    I am sorry this happened to you! Did you get a PPP Loan? They reopened them up until August if you haven’t had a chance to look into that :(

  84. SopranoAdmin*

    I believe that firing him would be an overreaction. While the anger of the OP is certainly justified, this seems to open up Pandora’s Box as to what is considered irresponsible exposure. Do employers have the right to tell people to or not to do things? Limit who they are allowed to be around (if a spouse, live-in partner or other family member has it, can they MAKE the employee find an alternative living arrangement?) not go to the grocery store? It is very difficult to pinpoint how people are contracting the virus, and this seems to be such a very slippery slope. Plus, what is that going to do to the morale of other employees? If you get covid, you risk losing your job. Everyone, across the board, is in their own precarious situation with this stupid virus. The OP is certainly not the only one. To me, it just seems way too over the top of a reaction.

  85. AllerDerm*

    I don’t think this is a situation that would be worth firing him over. Even pre-covid and before my fiance and I lived together, if one of us came down with a cold or the flu then it was pretty much just a matter of time before the other of us did. That’s just what happens when you have an intimate relationship with someone. And if the girlfriend lives with a vulnerable family member and they were both sick, presumably with the same thing, then I really don’t blame them for coming to the conclusion that it might be best for the girlfriend to stay with him to lessen grandma’s exposure risk. That’s just a really tricky situation and they did the best with the information they had. Now if you can’t afford to pay him for his quarantine that’s a separate issue. Pay him for any PTO he’s accumulated. Presumably, if he’s living with his parents he quite possibly has a safety net. That’s not to say everyone living at home has this but most parents aren’t going to kick their sick grown child onto the street if they can’t pay the usual amount of rent.

  86. Public Sector Manager*

    My question for the OP is what do you do when your employee wants a vacation? Do you not offer paid time off? Or do you offer paid time off but this time of year is a really terrible time of year for your employee to be out 2 weeks (like a tax preparer in the U.S. wanting 2 weeks off during March or April)? Because it sounds like you don’t offer paid time off because the focus on the post is the money you’ll be out with your employee getting paid and not working (which is the definition of a paid vacation).

    Take the focus off of your employee sheltering in place with his girlfriend due to COVID and ask yourself what you would do if your employee broke their arm on the weekend playing softball and couldn’t work for 2-3 weeks? Would you fire your employee for that? If so, then yes, you’d be the a-hole. If not, then you shouldn’t be treating your employee’s time away from work due to COVID any differently than any other injury outside of normal business hours–assuming you’re not required by law to provide better benefits because it’s COVID and further assuming your employee’s exposure came from the girlfriend and not your employee picking up COVID from working for you and exposing the girlfriend.

    If you have a leave program, let your employee use it. And if you don’t have a leave program, then you don’t have standing to complain.

  87. anonanna*

    honestly? as someone who had COVID and couldn’t control it, i still think you’re being too extreme. i read the headline as “he tried to get COVID,” but it seems like in actuality he and his girlfriend were managing risks, trying to limit their family’s exposure to them, and let you know of the situation.
    i had COVID and had been unknowingly exposed (exposed through someone i live with who ended up being symptomatic sooner than they initially told me). i went into the office once during that time frame- at that point i had zero symptoms (and wouldn’t develop symptoms for days) and didn’t know i was living with someone who wasn’t feeling well. my bosses and HR were awesome about notifying other employees and cleaning the office while still maintaining confidentiality. granted, the likelihood of me exposing a coworker is slim- i was in the office briefly, no one else was there, and no one else came in that week as far as i’m aware. but my job still handled it amazingly which boosted my own morale and loyalty. your employee didn’t try to get COVID and, from what i can tell, didn’t come back in after he told you he’d been with his girlfriend. firing him would be majorly, majorly overreacting. people are conflating morality with pandemic practices all over the place and in some cases it’s getting EXTREME.

  88. Beth*

    I actually don’t think the employee was even particularly reckless here.

    His girlfriend had symptoms that made it likely she had the virus. He’d been spending time with her in the time frame when, assuming she had it, she would have been contagious. They got tested, but results were going to take a few days to come back. In the meantime, he had the option to stay with her (so yes, to stay exposed if he didn’t have it yet, but he was already exposed and thought it likely that he had it already) or to have them in separate households (both exposed to older people and functioning as a possible spread point). He chose the former. That actually sounds responsible to me!

    It’s not his fault that your business’s finances are tight. It’s not his fault that his work can’t be done from home. I understand that the financial circumstances make this particularly difficult for you as the business owners, but realistically this was always going to be a likely outcome given the pandemic and the lack of successful management of it in the US; someone was going to get exposed or sick, it’s a question of who and when more than whether. It’s your job to find a way to manage that, not his. Don’t fall into the ‘we’re like family’ trap and think he should bear some of that load; you’re the owners, any windfall from the business’ successful times goes to you, and the financial risks and responsibility and sacrifice associated with running the business are also yours to handle. He’s not your co-owner or your son poised to inherit someday. He’s just your employee.

    I hear you that feeling like he was careless makes this harder to accept. I’m betting it would be easier for you and your husband emotionally if he’d been exposed while on a once-a-week grocery run, or while getting gas, or while doing some other unavoidable task. But really, I don’t think he was careless here. He saw his girlfriend–one person, a person very close to him, someone who it would be a big sacrifice to not see at all. She had been to a party a few weeks ago–which, yes, parties are risky, but if it had been a few weeks I wouldn’t have been worried about seeing her either! That’s past the expected period for showing symptoms. It sounds to me like he was trying to be responsible, personally. What were you expecting, that he would see literally no one outside his household indefinitely? That’s a hard ask from an employer, especially when you’re simultaneously asking him to open himself up to exposure by coming into work regularly. If the only viable solution to your finances is “no one gets exposed or tests positive ever,” I hate to say it, but this was already a doomed effort.

    1. anonanna*

      THIS. fwiw i had to get tested for COVID on a saturday and didn’t get the results till the next friday. i acted as if i had it and stayed home or did contactless pickup for food. it seems like the OP is channelling their feelings and frustrations onto the employee as a scapegoat.

    2. Beth*

      To be clear, I’m not saying that this doesn’t suck for you or that it’s a situation you should be 100% prepared for and comfortable with. This entire pandemic is a disaster for small businesses, especially with so little government relief. I’m just saying that I don’t think that’s your employee’s fault, and I don’t think he did anything that warrants firing or distrust going forward. It sounds to me like he’s been thoughtful in his actions and clear and open in his communication.

  89. Anecdata*

    You – and your business – are in a really difficult, stressful spot, and I’m sorry.

    Sometimes I find it really difficult to think through COVID-related scenarios right now, because it’s just so present/frustrating/scary. But I think if I substituted any other “my employee needs sick leave at a very inconvenient time, for “irresponsible” reasons”… I think I’d say you have to find a way to manage it, to let the employee have the sick leave they would otherwise qualify for. And we really don’t want to have employers go down the path of deciding what are /good enough/ reasons to have gotten sick for.

    Some examples if it’s helpful : “My employee got in a motorcycle accident over the weekend – and she wasn’t even wearing a helmet! – and we had to reschedule a major client presentation Monday morning that she was responsible for because she was still at the ER.”
    “My employee kept smoking – even though our insurance offers good smoking-cessation care – and now needs to take intermittent FMLA while going through chemotherapy for lung cancer”.

    Your employee notified you that he had been exposed to a communicable disease, and now he needs to follow the CDC’s recommendations to quarantine for 2 weeks. It’s a really tough situation for your business, but I don’t think the employer in this situation gets to judge if the reason for the exposure was good enough.

  90. Three Flowers*

    From the headline, I was expecting malice (or at least malicious stupidity). But while I think this guy’s a dingbat and his girlfriend is verifiably irresponsible for going to a party, he did not intentionally expose himself to Covid, unless he and his girlfriend hadn’t spent time together since the party or something, and it sounds like that’s not true. He made a rational call that if she had it, he probably did too (especially if they regularly exchange body fluids), and it was better to quarantine together than potentially expose the elderly grandmother if she hadn’t been exposed already.

    It actually *was* a reasonable decision that considered the consequences to others…he just didn’t prioritize the consequences to you, OP. He set the welfare of his family over his job. That is what *most people* would do. It genuinely sucks for you, and if you have to let him go because he wasn’t strictly quarantining and you desperately need to hire someone else, fine, at-will employment rules let you do that, but your judgment of his character is an overreaction.

    PS: given the ridiculous false negative rate with Covid tests, there is a good chance he actually does have it. If you bring him back, you should require that he get tested again and that his girlfriend isolate from him in the meantime. (And if your requirement for bringing him back is that he separate himself totally from any humans who aren’t at work, you need to say that up front so he can make a call about whether he wants to comply with that. So far he’s been very honest with you. You should do him the same courtesy.)

  91. m*

    Hello OP! As someone who has taken similar risks w/ my partner (albeit while in a job where I work remotely) let me give you a bit of context as to the cost calculus that may be going into that type of decision:

    My partner is a full-time adult student who has been displaced by the shutdown of their college campus, which is hours away from the city where I live. They have had to return to my city, and though they technically are living with their family, they spend the night with me a few times a week because their family’s house is extremely overcrowded (their brother and brother’s wife were also displaced by the virus), and I’m entirely quarantined anyways (live alone, work from home) so i’m very low risk.

    It is also notable that I live in one of the epicenters of the federal crackdowns on protests against police brutality, and as a civic-minded person, my partner feels that it is their duty to show up and be a part of the peaceful protests. I have a full-time job, and have specialized skills that allow me to contribute more helpfully in non-physical ways, so I generally don’t go out as often.

    After my partner attends protests, they quarantine with me. There is a risk of them becoming sick, in which case we will remain in the bubble and ride the illness out together, albeit with people checking in on us in case we quickly become too ill to drive to the nearest hospital. Basically,

    The reason we choose to do this is that my partner’s family includes several immunocompromised people, some of which (like your employee’s girlfriend’s grandmother) are also in additional high risk groups. If they contract the disease, they are likely to die, be saddled with lifelong chronic health problems, and/or be drowned in medical debt. Given that the choice is between becoming ill myself (as a young, healthy, well-insured person) or potentially killing half my partner’s family, them staying with me even in the case of illness is the only sane choice.

    I know you are a business owner and that money is tight right now, but I would ask that you do your utmost to act with compassion. Is there a way your employee can take a lighter load for the course of the quarantine, and/or do most of their duties from home? I understand that this may put you in a difficult position, but the other options are even worse:
    – If you terminate the employee, you leave someone without a safety net in a time where they are incredibly likely to become greviously (and expensively) ill with a disease that is marked by leaving behind long term damage.
    – If you ask the employee to come into work physically, you risk infection of yourself and your other employee
    – If you ask the employee not to quarantine with the girlfriend, you are essentially asking the girlfriend to kill or maim her grandmother

    1. Temperance*

      I don’t think this is really a fair/helpful framing of the issues. You work from home; you aren’t putting anyone else at risk by allowing your partner to stay in your home after they protest. I would also argue that protesting is more important than attending parties. GF had an obligation to not expose her grandmother to rona, and she chose to attend a party instead, getting exposed.

      OP isn’t heartless here for being upset with their employee’s decision making. While yes, he’s not the one who went to the party, as far as we know, I’m not sure why all of a sudden it’s on the business to protect the girlfriend’s grandmother, when GF herself didn’t even care to do so.

      1. Cat*

        It’s not on them to protect the girlfriend’s grandmother. It’s on them not to fire an employee based on the precise details of when he was exposed to Covid and how he quarantined.

  92. Bobboccio*

    Have to agree with the folks saying I’m not sure why Alison described this employee as reckless and as having terrible judgement, as I think in 95% of cases, I would quarantine with my gf as well. If one of us had it the other would almost certainly as well, and… there’s nowhere else to go. Only situation is if I hadn’t seen her in a long time, and gotten sick, then I would try to find a hotel but I don’t think any would take someone quarantining due to COVID-risk near me but otherwise if I was sick I’d assume she had it too.

    I also don’t get how it could have 100% been avoided, because he was exposed before he quarantined with his girlfriend. He could still be sick, from the first exposure, as far as we know, as the test is not 100% certain.

    Now, should the employee be furloughed for it? Well people are being furloughed for a lot less of course. And if the company folds then he is out of a job either way.

  93. Blue Eagle*

    After reading all of these comments all I want to say now is – – so sorry OP for all of the commenters piling on you about how you are supposed to have double the help you need so that having one person out (in a 3 1/2 person business) won’t be a problem. Obviously either they were never small business owners themselves or they think money grows on trees.
    Once again, so sorry that your employee put you in this position.

    1. Sleepless*

      This is how the comments go, every single time Alison answers a small business owner’s question. Every time.

    2. Cat*

      I’m a partner at a small law firm so I live with the precariousness of a small business and I also get that the Pandemic has put small business owners in awful positions. That doesn’t mean I think it’s fair to blame the employee in this particular case. The blame should fall on our government’s response. Not this guy who to all accounts, acted pretty reasonable. You can feel sympathy for both the LW and the employee.

    3. Hopefully not the asshole*

      OP here! It’s ok – I fully expected a pile on. It is what it is. I am a human being, I know it’s crazy think of business owners that way. But, if it helps anyone commenting on this – I’ve felt like the asshole since I have owned a business and this situation only exacerbates that. I think it’s fair to assume when a business says “I can’t afford that” that whatever that is, isn’t going to bankrupt them but rather further stretch them in an already tight spot. At least that is what I meant. And no, we aren’t going to fire him. Thanks for being nice :)

    4. blackcat*

      I completely get it’s a big deal to have that person out.
      What a lot of us are saying is that the employee wasn’t necessarily irresponsible here, and that his negative test could be inaccurate and shouldn’t be held against him.
      There aren’t details (and OP likely doesn’t know them), but it’s entirely possible the GF doesn’t have her own room where she lives but Employee does. So by going to stay with Employee, the most people were kept safe.

      OP is putting a lot of blame on this employee that a lot of us think are misplaced. It’s okay for the OP to be frustrated or angry, but the anger should really be pointed at our leadership that has allowed this pandemic to explode, rather than controlling it like basically every other country.

  94. Applesauced*

    OP’s reaction reminds me of Joe Exotic saying “I am never gonna financially recover from this” when an employee just lost an arm.

  95. Geek*

    Firing him makes you TA.

    Separating his judgment from the outcome might help.

    I believe he had good judgment. Stay away from family that you might infect. You didn’t mention his salary. Is he paid well enough so that he could comfortable check himself into a hotel by himself? Same with his girlfriend? Or are they being fiscally responsible by quarantining together, but apart from their families? If they both assumed they had it, what they did demonstrates not only good judgment but admirable concern for others.

    If they both came back with negative test results, would you be questioning that judgment? Or are you tying your assessment of his judgment to the outcome?

    He went with the odds that many reasonable people would. Lady luck didn’t shine on him. The outcome wasn’t ideal. But was his judgment bad because of that?

  96. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    While I am not condoning going to a party during a pandemic, a party “a few weeks back” isn’t where the girlfriend got coronavirus. The incubation period is not 21+ days.

  97. Kelly White*

    This is exactly why, I, a high-risk individual, won’t get tested unless absolutely required.

    I am considered “essential” – I’m in manufacturing. I am going in to work every day. (Although, the strip clubs in my state are open too- so this “essential” stuff seems a bit, um, weird, to me).
    My DH works from home, and we are keeping our kid home from school in the fall to limit exposure.

    If I got tested and was positive, my place of business would need to quarantine for two weeks. I’m not going to be the one that shuts us down. I need my job.

    1. get tested, save lives*

      “This is exactly why, I, a high-risk individual, won’t get tested unless absolutely required.”

      Wait…. wait….

      You’d rather unknowingly infect your family, your co-workers and anyone else you might have come into contact with than shut down a business?

      That’s borderline sociopathic behavior.

      1. anonn*

        no, i think she’s expressing the very tough reality many people are facing– that they don’t have the framework or priviledge of losing their job or foregoing income.

      2. Beth*

        I read this as less “screw everyone else, a shutdown would be inconvenient for me” and more “I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.” Many, many people are caught between the threat to life (both possible death and possible quality of life impact) from catching covid, and the threat to life (once again, both interpretations) of losing all income/getting evicted/not being able to feed kids/losing insurance/etc.

    2. Maeve*

      Uh I really think you should look into why you value the business you work for over the lives of your husband and children.

    3. Mediamaven*

      I know a company where the employees had that mentality. One person is dead and most others are infected. Don’t do that.

    4. pancakes*

      Eh? If you become positive you might indeed be the person who shuts down your place of business, regardless whether you want to or not. Whether you will or will not get the virus, will or will not have symptoms, or will or will not have a coworker who gets sick are not choices that you’ll get to make.

  98. Cubular Belles*

    Just throwing out ideas here but, can you promote the part timer to full time to get through this? Or just switch over by promoting the part timer to full time from on here out? (given that they want more hours/benefits) After the full timer self quarantines, he can return but, offer him part timer hours/tasks until the work ramps up again? it would keep them both on payroll and keep business running, given the time sensitive nature, and specific skill sets, you don’t have many options here. Small businesses have to juggle all resources, labor is not immune. Just thinking out loud, and sharing ideas and hoping it all works out.

  99. Cat*

    Man, I don’t usually say this, but I find this thread incredibly upsetting. I see a lot of “just world fallacy” going on – if everyone did everything right they wouldn’t get sick and if they do, they must have done something wrong. You will never be pure enough to prevent all exposure and neither will anyone else. We all need to accept that.

    Y’all, we’re all right to be angry. We should be angry. But not at someone who continued to see his girlfriend in what was surely a complicated decision tree involving a set of no-win decisions. We should be angry at the government who hasn’t given us a coherent response, which has deliberately spread misinformation like wildfire, and which has put both businesses and individuals in untenable situations. I know this is a “no politics” space but this is not extricable from politics. The failures here are systemic, not individual. It is not ok to misdirect blame onto individuals, even if they didn’t make the precise choices you would make .

    1. Temperance*

      No, there are absolutely individual failures in with the systemic ones. I think it’s fine to be angry at GF for attending a party during a pandemic. I think it’s fine to be angry at the guy who continued to spend time with someone who clearly wasn’t socially distancing.

      We can’t rely on the government to help us. We are responsible for ourselves. We need to stay home, quarantine, whatever if we can so that people who *can’t* due to their occupations or whatever can.

      1. Cat*

        Sure we can be angry at individuals. But first, you don’t actually know these people or anything other than the broad outlines. We don’t know what this party was or how it was conducted or what the messaging from local health officials was. Sure, of course we can say nobody should go to a party and I’m not (though I did post about one upthread where everyone had a spot marked out in a circle in a park and wore masks so I guess I did.). But the level of rage here is disproportionate to what we know. Which is basically nothing.

        And as to the boyfriend, basically everyone in this thread has explained why he probably did what he did. Being angry at him because you’re assuming he did it out of irresponsibility rather than the likelihood that he did the best of many bad options is just dumb. It sounds like you’re saying he shouldn’t be seeing the girlfriend period because she “obviously” isn’t social distancing (we don’t know that). I think it’s interesting you think it’s acceptable to ask this guy to not see his girlfriend for two years but what sounds like an event planning business is totally cool to go forward. No. This is not about this guy not seeing his girlfriend for two years anymore than it is about the LW voluntarily shutting down their business for two years.

      2. Cat*

        And you know what? I’m going to respond more because I really think this line of thinking is endemic at this blog and actually pretty abhorrent when you follow it through to it’s logical conclusions. We were asked to make real sacrifices – pull our children out of school, lose our income, risk our businesses. Most of us did that. I certainly did and continue to do so. Now we’re months and months in and the government has done nothing to make that sacrifice mean something.

        And instead of saying that we’re directing our rage at some guy who didn’t dump his girlfriend for going to some unspecified party we know nothing about and which probably was allowed under (ineffective) public health guidelines.

        That is not ok. The business is suffering from this because they should have gotten help but didn’t. There should have been private places for normal people to quarantine but there mostly aren’t. You are misdirecting your anger.

        1. pancakes*

          We weren’t all asked to make sacrifices. Some of us worked from home prior to the pandemic, and some of us have jobs that can’t be done from home due to the nature of the work. The idea that any such actions have to “mean something” other than trying to minimize risk where possible wouldn’t be out of place in a screenplay, but that’s not what the pandemic is. I’m not seeing the rage you refer to, and I haven’t seen anyone say the employee should have dumped his girlfriend rather than consider spending time apart from her after the party. You keep saying that you aren’t going to parties yourself but are going to outdoor gatherings — maybe that’s made the comments feel personal to you in a way they aren’t to some of the rest of us?

          1. Cat*

            Wow. I’m not talking about a screenplay. I’m talking about a government honoring a contract with its citizens instead of hanging them out to dry. Like, you know, many other countries did which is why they’ve seen massively lower death rates.

            And said I went to one outdoor gathering. And that has in fact been it. One. A considered one that I think was quite responsible and well in line with all public health guidance I’ve seen (as well as what experts like Dr. Fauci have said they personally have done). But it’s absolutely fascinating that you take it to mean that I am personally offended instead of that I think the attitude here is actually both toxic and putting the blame in the wrong place.
            This is actually an excellent example of what I’m saying. Nothing short of locking yourself in your house for two years will satisfy a purity standard. That is not the standard. What it should be is compliance with reasonable government guidance that is well thought out and supported with concrete help.

            And yes, plenty of people in this thread have said he just shouldn’t be seeing her because he obviously (apparently) can’t trust her to social distance.

            It’s nice that you don’t think you were asked to make sacrifices if you already worked at home I guess. Kind of a weird way to look at it ok if that applies to you personally. (Hint: for most people the sacrifice was not not physically going to work). And essential workers have absolutely been asked to make sacrifices and not been given the protection they deserve. And likewise our definition of “essential” has been absolutely insane, which is another failure.

            But again, ok. It seems pretty clear that we have very, very different views on this situation.

            1. Cat*

              (And I’ll add – I’m not abdicating personal responsibility or saying it doesn’t matter. I’d have a different opinion if this was a letter about someone going to a Covid party, like the subject title implied, or one of those letters about someone flying to Disneyworld and then wanting to come back to work or a million other things. But in this case, it sounds like the guy’s girlfriend did something that was probably not great – though we don’t know the magnitude – and then the guy dealt with it reasonably but arguably not perfectly, but also we don’t really know because we don’t have all the facts. That is why this is a situation where I think blaming the individual (and firing him, since again, that was the question) is misplaced.

            2. pancakes*

              You’re reading an awful lot of things I didn’t say into my comment. I didn’t and wouldn’t suggest that anyone lock themselves in their house for 2 years, and I wasn’t trying to imply that essential workers haven’t been asked to make sacrifices. Doing the same work for the same pay in conditions that now risk one’s life is a sacrifice in itself, as is being tasked with serving as a bouncer for people not wearing masks, for starters. I haven’t been asked to make comparable sacrifices. Lots of other white collar workers haven’t been. Sacrifice is unevenly distributed. It isn’t a value judgment to observe that.

              In an earlier comment of yours you said, “I am not going to inside gatherings with people outside my household and am social distancing at outdoor ones.” I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable for me to read “outdoor ones” as indicating that you’ve been to more than one.

              1. Cat*

                You said this:

                “We weren’t all asked to make sacrifices. Some of us worked from home prior to the pandemic, and some of us have jobs that can’t be done from home due to the nature of the work.”

                I am responding directly to what you said. Of course sacrifices aren’t evenly distributed. But they’re also not all work related.

                I do like that you’re trying to develop a comprehensive assessment of my risk taking and thus what I’m likely to take personally. Cool cool cool. You’re right. I used terminology imprecisely. I did attend one “party” which I described above. I also have met my brother and niece in a socially distanced manner, which I was probably thinking of as gatherings in other contexts.

                Listen, be mad at whoever you want and feel free to continue to parse this guy’s behavior to prove to yourself that he probably deserves to lose his job for not approaching a worldwide pandemic in precisely the same way you did. And feel free to characterize that as “personal responsibility.” Why not. I’m going to continue to think that that attitude is a lot of the problem.

                1. pancakes*

                  There isn’t anything in the portion of my own comment you’re quoting back at me that says or suggests I think people should lock themselves in their houses for two years, for starters. I don’t think the employee in the letter should be fired, either, and I didn’t use the phrase “personal responsibility” at any point today. If you do a quick control + F search you’ll see where that came from.

                2. Cat*

                  I didn’t say you said any of that. I said that is the logical extrapolation of the framework you’re advocating here.

        2. Lalaroo*

          It’s stupid to think that you can’t be angry at other people behaving irresponsibly and can only be angry at the government for not doing a good job. The government is failing us, completely and absolutely catastrophically. I’m absolutely incandescent with rage when I think about it. HOWEVER, I am also angry at selfish people who continue to behave riskily and make things worse than they have to be. Both actors are bad.

          1. Cat*

            Yes, and yet I don’t think this guy falls into that category and anger against him is misdirected.

  100. Lauren*

    The reason that you want to fire him is because his girlfriend who tested positive will be quarantining and living at his house. You wouldn’t fire your employee if he was living with his girlfriend and she tested positive. You wouldn’t fire him if one of his parents who he lives with tested positive. You likely wouldn’t fire him if they were married not just dating, or if she got infected serving meals to the homeless, or if there were other circumstances which would make you more understanding.

    To be extremely clear, the reason you want to fire your employee is because his girlfriend (and likely long term partner, even if they live apart) will be quarantining with your employee so that her elderly grandmother – an incredibly at risk person – does not fall sick and potentially die. You don’t get to dictate the living arrangements of your employees. That is 100% their personal choice and just because you disagree or disapprove doesn’t make you correct.

    Take a step back and think about what you would do if you had to have someone infected live with you to potentially save the life of your parent, your grandparent, or your child. Would you want to be fired?

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I hadn’t thought that firing was something to worry about, although I didn’t tell my boss about an offer I made. A single mom I know ended up in the hospital with Covid, and her son went to stay with another single mom and her kids. I told that mom that if she also got sick, I would take care of the kids. I also offered our yard (and one toilet in the house) for the kids to come in play in, keeping ourselves separated and disinfecting the toilet afterward. If she had got sick, I would have told my boss what I was doing. I’m working from home, but there’s no way to do normal work with an influx of kids. Fortunately, no-one got sick, mom is back out of the hospital.

      OP’s employee looked at the risks, and probably thought that grandmother’s life was the most important. When you’re faced with no good options, you take the least bad option you see.

    2. Hopefully not the asshole*

      OP here – this is a tough situation for all involved. To clarify – the reason we would have considered termination was because we asked that CDC and doctor recommendations be followed while he was waiting for his test results and quarantining which include self-isolation. They were not. There is absolutely nothing either my husband or I want more than to have everyone we know be healthy and safe. Including GF and her grandma. I’m horrified that this letter has been taken to assume that we would wish ill will on anyone including an elderly woman.

      If I had gotten a heads up – or even a hint that the quarantine would not be completed in self-isolation I could have prepared and responded differently. For example, we could have then discussed what a return to work plan looked like if there was a mutual quarantine and one person was positive. I guess what I am getting at here is that we could have addressed some of our concerns (and our employees) if we had known that self-isolation just wasn’t an option. We didn’t get that opportunity and now we are faced with an employee who can’t return to work for two weeks because he will continue to quarantine with his GF who is positive (rightly so if she has no other place to go). It’s not ideal for any of us. We would never want to dictate anything after hours, living arrangements or otherwise to our employees. You’re right – that isn’t correct or right. But I don’t see how our concerns are dictating or disapproving their living arrangements, our concerns are more based in naivety that everyone had the same understanding of self-quarantine and CDC regs that we did. I would feel the same way if the employee quarantined with a direct relative who was potentially positive. It has nothing to do with the relationship, the GF, the grandma, it has to do with how the self-isolation was conducted.

  101. Lemon Ginger Tea*

    Flip this on its head: girlfriend tested positive, is living with her frail granny. She asks if she can stay with the boyfriend as soon as she finds out the test was positive because she doesn’t want to expose her grandma any more than she already has. In OP’s ideal sequence of events, the employee would have said no to that request??

    I do get the frustration, but I think anyone in this situation would have assumed the same as the employee. Two people in a romantic relationship spend a lot of time together and swap germs, there was every reason to assume he was in the same boat. Imagine if he’d just been like, *shrug* just because she got it doesn’t mean I will. Time to report to work!

  102. Autumnheart*

    Aside from the legalities surrounding firing someone for catching the coronavirus, OP should also consider the ethical implications of ending an employee’s healthcare coverage at the moment he may soon need intensive medical attention and lifesaving care. If OP fires him, she may well contribute directly to drastically shortening his life.

    To me, it really doesn’t matter where the employee caught the virus. It could’ve been from the GF after she attended the party. It could have been after a trip to the grocery store, too. Or picking up a curbside order. The US doesn’t have contact tracing and isn’t doing anything to prevent the spread; it cannot be an individual’s “fault” that they caught a virus that can spread through the air.

    Firing your experienced employee for getting sick does nothing to solve the problem at all. You’ll only have to hire and train another person who is just as likely to catch the virus, and then you’re back at square one. Every time. In the US, the number of cases are going up, not down. It’s time to figure out a different business model.

  103. prof*

    Holy crap, who told you or him he can go back to work without another test?!? He exposed himself AFTER taking the test. He didn’t have it before, but I’d be shocked if he didn’t now. And studies are finding that something like 50% of people are asymptomatic. Plus, people who become symptomatic start spreading before symptoms appear.

    oh, and I’m a biologist.

  104. specialist*

    Retest him. You are down 48 hours for the length of time it takes for the test to come back. (There are rapid tests, but doubt you could get one.) You cover his salary for the original time, ie from the time he was off for the first test until the results came back. He gets to cover his time, lose money or use PTO, for this latest test because he was the one who did the stupid thing.

    Perhaps you would like to have a local medical person talk to your office about how to handle life in the time of Covid?

    The CDC recommendations on quarantine after exposure is 14 days, not 5 days. You have to go with the CDC on this.

  105. Hopefully not the asshole*

    OP here! Wow! There is a lot to unpack here and I am so grateful to all of you (even the ones who posted that I’m the asshole) for your insights and opinions. I am trying to read all of them, but it’s a LOT. I am responding where I can clarify or be helpful! Thank you all for taking the time to commiserate or light me up – it’s truly helpful to see others perspective especially when it’s different or new or conflicting.

    Things to note:

    Our anger isn’t because we have to pay him – and paying him won’t bankrupt us. We always knew this was a possibility and we do have plans in place for it. But, we are a small business with significant Covid losses up to this point and losing two weeks of payroll without getting the productivity that comes along with that…well it sucks no matter how it happened. There is only so much planning and pivoting we can all do – at a certain point we just have to trust that what is meant to be will be.

    I already felt like the asshole (I think most business owners do at least some of the time), so it’s OK if you think I am one! But, I’m also a human being and I have NEVER once put my business or profit before my employee’s health. This letter doesn’t include all of the measures we have taken before this happened to ensure everyone’s safety. Measures that included shutting our business down for 8 weeks during the stay-at-home order. We are considered essential and could have argued to stay open under those guidelines, but we decided as a family that was not the right thing to do. Once we were able to open back it was with planning, guidance, and employee safety at the forefront. My concern about lost income should be a sign that I am concerned about my employee’s livelihood as well. My husband and I have not taken a paycheck at all this year and probably won’t again until this is over.

    We do legally have to pay him for 80 hours – again, this is fine because we knew this could happen responsible behavior or not.

    The ultimate source of our frustration is not that he was exposed. Not that his girlfriend was irresponsible (though that does dampen our ability to trust that her actions won’t impact our safety protocol again), the frustration comes from the quarantine dilemma. I did instruct our employee to quarantine according to CDC regulations and doctor recommendations which means he should have isolated 100%. I cannot enforce that or ensure it happens either way. So I am very glad he was honest as I mentioned in my letter. But the direct violation of my explicit instruction is the worrisome portion of this. Once he returns from quarantine, can we be sure that other instructions involving the health and safety of our employees and clients won’t be compromised by further issues? We have a responsibility to our clients as well as our employees. Not to mention the responsibility I have to my family to ensure their health and safety. It is literally a no win situation all around. None of us asked for this, and none of us are pros at this.

    The headline on this was an editorial addition and not my wording.

    Yes, we can be incredibly busy and financially strapped at the same time. Our PT employee is out for two weeks to serve. It’s terrible timing – obviously not intentional or controllable by anyone.

    I am in regular contact with many small business colleagues and there is no short supply of businesses who a breath away from losing everything. I totally get and appreciate all the risk management and planning recommendations that we received. Much like everything else, this is a many layered problem not easily solved by putting a pen to paper and saying “if this than that”. We will continue to operate our business until the very last cent in our bank account is gone and then hope for a miracle like we have any other time we had more bills than money. It’s a way of life that doesn’t always make sense, and doesn’t always translate well to people who haven’t done this.

    Lastly, my husband and I are in absolute turmoil over this. We had a very rough night last night talking and considering all of the very same factors you all have brought up. At the end of the day, this sucks. It sucks for him. It sucks for us. We will continue on and make it through, and unless our employee does something else notably irresponsible right now, he will still have a job.

    Thanks again – hope this helps clarify or answer some of the bigger questions out there.

    1. Cat*

      So I’m going to try not to pile on. I understand you are, like many people, in a bad situation. But I’m going to question the “following orders” aspect of this. First, you don’t actually get to give him orders about how he responds to a personal health issue. You wouldn’t get to tell him to take antibiotics so he gets over strep throat quicker either even if it’s clearly the right decision.

      Second, you can’t fall back on the CDC guidance on that one. Yes, it would be great if everyone could follow it. But frankly most people can’t and if they did it wouldn’t be effective. It’s part of a disingenuous government response that provides ineffective advice instead of setting up structure that will actually help people. Most people can’t effective isolate in homes they share with other people. It’s just not workable. Here, you have multiple multigenerational households in play. There is a good reason that areas with a lot of multigenerational housing are seeing higher spread than many others.

      1. toxic avenger*


        “The direct violation of my explicit instruction.” Not everyone has the luxury of being able to isolate 100%. At the end of the day, I think OP knows their expectations are out of line.

      2. Team OP*

        Under current EEOC guidelines, employers can require employees to certify that they are complying with COVID-19 protocols, including related to self-isolation, and including as pertains to behavior outside the workplace. Legally, morally, and factually this is distinct from trying to control medical treatment decisions as in your comparison.

        Failure to comply with protocols necessary to keep the workplace safe and/or falsely certifying that you have complied with those protocols can be actionable within the workplace even if the behavior took place outside it. A more apt analogy than the one you offered would be to requirements that machinery operators get enough sleep to safely operate their machines without impairment to avoid endangering others. Some people may not have stable housing, or have underlying health conditions that interfere with sleeping adequately, or may have children who cry all night, or other problems – that doesn’t mean you should compromise workplace safety because they have other issues. If the person cannot be trusted to take the required steps for workplace safety, they should not be put in a position to harm others.

      3. MicroManagered*

        But the direct violation of my explicit instruction is the worrisome portion of this.

        I think this is what rubs me the wrong way. You don’t get to give your employee “explicit instruction” about their own time, including how they care for their own health. Perhaps he and his girlfriend were quarantining (together) because it’s the best they could do given the spaces they have access to? (We don’t know and it’s not addressed in OP’s other comments.)

        I’d find it extremely demoralizing if I was honest with my employer about how I navigated a covid scare, and they considered firing me for it? I’d never ever share anything about my personal life again and probably be looking to get away from that job ASAP.

      4. EventPlannerGal*

        Agreed with all of this, and I have really appreciated your comments in this post.

    2. ZeldaFitz*

      Thanks for updating! I’m glad to hear you’re not firing your employee — that’s clearly the right call here. And good luck with everything, it’s a tough landscape out there. I deal with small business policy issues and woof, there’s just not many great solutions right now.

    3. Always Late to the Party*

      I really appreciate how thoughtful you’ve been in this situation and I’m so sorry this is happening to you, your family and your employee.

      This is an unprecedented time. There are so many situations where the choices are all bad, and hindsight brings the most perspective. Covid is the asshole here, not your employee and not you.

      If employee quarantined with girlfriend because it was gf’s only option to prevent exposing her grandma, that may have seemed like the “better” choice when he was presumed positive, even though it was contrary to your instructions. Now that we know he tested negative, it is easier to see why his choice may not have been optimal.

      If you otherwise trust employee’s judgement, I would keep him on and assume he chose to quarantine with girlfriend because it seemed like the “best” of the bad choices.

      Everyone has to make decisions weighing our physical health, mental health, the health of our loved ones, the public health, our employment, etc. in ways we’ve never had to. Assume that is someone had good intentions pre-pandemic they have them now and we’re all just doing our best in an impossible time.

    4. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

      “the direct violation of my explicit instruction” you say…

      your “explicit instruction” to isolate 100%? you know that’s pretty close to impossible when you live with other people depending on the size and layout of the living space.

    5. Hannah*

      Hi, public health professional working on the COVID-19 response here. CDC makes recommendations, not regulations. You would need to look at your state (or territory) and local guidance for anything stronger (but in general, public health tries real hard to avoid being the infectious disease police for a whole suite of very good reasons that I will avoid diving any further into!).

      But most will have followed the CDC on this, and the relevant language around separation from others when isolated or quarantined is almost always something like “if possible.” See for example here: and here:

      This is because it *isn’t* always possible to do the most ideal and perfect thing. I don’t know (and it’s none of my business!) exactly what this employee’s quarantine/his girlfriend’s isolation environment looked like. But they’re far from the first set of close contacts to opt to quarantine/isolate together during this pandemic and it’s very, very common for household contacts (which these two became when they decided that she couldn’t be at home home with grandma) to not be able to separate 100% for logistical and/or financial reasons.

      I absolutely understand your concerns and I have all the sympathy in the world for the stress you’re under regarding both the business and your and your family’s health. But the bar that you’re setting here is a higher bar than that set by CDC or any health department that I’m aware of, and it’s not fair or reasonable.

    6. ...*

      FWIW I dont think you or he is an asshole, and until I have way more info on the party I wouldn’t call the GF one either. You’re both in a hard position. Like, where has all the compassion gone? U aren’t an AH and he is not an AH. I’m reserving that for way more harsh situations than this!

  106. zaza*

    I didn’t read all the comments. Strip out all the extra info on gf, grandma, etc. You say you were ready if someone was positive. If this employee tested positive, what would change? If he ended up in a hospital for 6 to 8 weeks like my uncle did, how would the equation change?
    I don’t think you were ready for this, which is understandable, many large businesses were not ready. You need to think objectively about this employee and his performance up to this point. You don’t get to dictate where and how someone lives, what choices they make, etc.
    Look at this as the the beauty of owning your own business – you have to figure out how to flex the business upon unexpected circumstances. This is not on the employee, this is on the business owner.

  107. toxic avenger*

    If you fire this employee, YTA.

    I understand things are incredibly stressful right now, but there was always a risk that you, your husband, or employees would eventually be exposed and/or catch COVID-19. While the girlfriend’s decision to attend a party was completely irresponsible, the timeline provided doesn’t actually back their suspicion that she caught COVID-19 at the party. Symptoms present within 14 days; if it had been 14+ days between when her symptoms first appeared and the party, there’s a good chance she caught it elsewhere.

    Again, things are stressful and uncertain. I can’t imagine trying to raise a child while your family’s sole income is tied into this business. But your employee did not behave recklessly or exercise poor judgment (frankly, I’m a little appalled that Allison decreed him as such) and I think you’re using this employee as an avenue to release some of your anxiety and stress (hey, it happens! we all do it!). I think I was also put off by your complaint about how it’s “the worst possible time to eat a week of payroll.” I mean, I guess, but that’s a risk you take on as a small buisness owner. I’d encourage you to remember someone’s health (and life) should be more valuable than your company’s bottom line.

    Others have already pointed this out, but he made the best decision he could. It was a lose-lose situation and not being able to miraculously create a win out of it does not make him reckless nor should he be fired for it (or as a momentary stress relief for you and your husband). Is it possible to legally furlough him for a couples weeks while he’s quarnantining and bring your 0.5 employee to 1.0 to cover his work? Could you or your husband take on some of his job duties?

  108. amy*

    Your one option could be to furlough the employee. That is a business option that many large companies used in March/Apr when the shutdown happened. It will help you survive financially and the employee gets to return when you are ready to have him back. I’m just not sure if he tests positive at any point, does that change anything.

  109. DescantaEsq*

    Yep, you have to let your feelings about the situation go. It actually doesn’t matter how your employee was exposed to COVID. Simply put, they could have been exposed in any number of places totally unrelated to his girlfriend – or not. You are a person and a business owner, but you’re not able to control every element of risk, particularly in other people’s lives. After you get mad by yourself (which is allowed), you put on your business owner hat and figure out what you CAN do. You said that you had planned for this possibility, so you need to put that plan into action. Every moment that you aren’t able to provide yourself, your employees and your customers guidance and leadership is an opportunity lost.

    My suggestion? Act as though your employee was hit by a car unexpectedly. (Pretend it happened while he was jaywalking in a hospital zone against traffic, to help an elderly grandmother if that makes you feel better.) You ask how he is feeling, and you ask him to check in with you on Friday. From now until Friday, you take a deep breath and do what you can with the resources you have. In the meantime, you clarify your plan for his return to work. (Will you need extra PPE or disinfecting wipes? Can you adjust schedules so that he’s in the office when others are not? Are you able to work at alternate locations, like outside?) On Friday, you check in and find out what his doctor has recommended. If he’s cleared to go back to work, you welcome him back. If you’re REALLY worried about how he handled the situation, you can maybe pull him aside and share that the situation was very upsetting, not only because you were worried about him (I don’t think you actually seem worried, but say it anyway because it’s a nice thing and he’s also probably SUPER stressed out about maybe his girlfriend dying and probably losing his job), and because he’s such an important part of your business that having him out is very stressful. Remind him that it’s so important, now more than ever, to follow the public health recommendations being given.

    If he isn’t cleared to come back to work –or sweet goodness, actually has COVID — you schedule some check ins at reasonable periods. Then you, business person, figure out how to either hire a temp, adjust your workload, or let him go. Understand, however, that the beer fridge isn’t going to make up for being the employer who fired someone just as they found out they had COVID.

    I think you’re probably a good person, and this just has you out of sorts. We’re dealing with difficult situations, and sometimes hindsight is 20/20. You’re bringing a toddler to work during a pandemic and letting employees drink beer. (Which seems like a good idea…until it isn’t.) He’s living with his girlfriend to avoid her accidentally killing her grandmother. (Which seemed like a good idea, until he told you.) You’re stressed about payroll and clients and paying the bills (which is stressful) and he’s stressed about getting really sick, people dying and losing his job (also stressful). For anyone keeping score, adulting in 2020 sucks. The best we can do is try and find the humanity and take the compassionate road when we can. (FWIW, I’m sorry that you’ve had a tough time and that you’re feeling financial pressures.)

  110. CheeryO*

    I get the frustration, but YTA. They made the best choice they could to protect their families.

    Also, I’m seeing a lot of bias against couples who don’t live together. My boyfriend and I share a small apartment, and we’re in the bubble together, like it or not. We’ve been careful, but his calculated risks are mine and vice versa, and no one would ever give that a second thought. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect otherwise of an established couple at this point, and also… people make mistakes. You can’t fire the employee because his girlfriend did something that was perhaps risky (and perhaps not – maybe she just got unlucky!).

  111. GammaGirl1908*

    I’m not a business owner … but why can’t they furlough him / lay him off for three weeks and let him collect unemployment for that time? I see that hasn’t really been broached in nearly 600 comments, so there’s likely some reason why not, but … why not?

    1. Hopefully not the asshole*

      Under the CARES act all businesses with 500 or less employees have to pay up to 80 hours for COVID related stuff. So, he can’t be furloughed because it’s mandated we have to pay him during this time.

      1. one more scientist*

        But do you have to pay him if he deliberately went against your (CDC) quarantine policy?

  112. Guest*

    Honestly I feel like OP you , and many others, are responding to the stress of being unable to control anything right now in this pandemic. He didn’t have to tell you where or how (and honestly the party being a few weeks ago and just NOW symptoms sounds like it was more than the the 2 weeks or border line) just that he got exposed and shows he has a level of respect for you. If it was my SO regardless of whether or not we lived together I know that we would have been seeing each other on lunch dates (keeping outside but maintaining social distance) and that STILL might not have worked. We had a covid scare (turned out to be a sever allergic reaction) and I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs to talk! My SO stayed by my side as he said “If you’ve got it, I’ve got it” through the 3 days while we waited for results. Work had the b*alls to say “Well you don’t have to talk to be at the computer..”
    End of day times are uncertain. It’s hard to figure out what is the right thing to do when guidelines change, misinformation, opening and closing again… I’m sorry you have to go through with this and I am sorry your employee and his family does as well. Keep following recommendations and do what you did…sit, breathe talk it out. Your employee can’t control the actions of those around him and yes while there is an argument that he would have stayed away from the GF , what if he was being safe or thought he was? Right now it’s MENTALLY hard on people and he might have needed that time for his sanity in working in these crazy times!

  113. I'm just here for the cats*

    I’d say dont fire him but explain that you’re very concerned about covid. I think he will still need to quarantine even if he’s negative now it takes 14 days for symptoms to show.
    One thing is concerning is the OP says they cant afford to pay him 2 weeks quarantine. I didn’t think that businesses, especially small businesses, were required to pay an employee if the employee had to quarantine. Unless it’s a state regulation? Here is the website for the FFCRA which has a footnote that certain provisions for employers who have less than 50 employees do not apply.
    I would love Alison to chime in if I’m incorrect.

  114. specialist*

    I’ve got to say this again.
    Re-test for covid.
    Re-test for covid.
    My turnaround on this is 48 hours. You can be back up and running by Friday.

    I had an employee who had a family member with an exposure. She had to stay home. I tested myself and my nurse, and paid for the tests myself. I then had a discussion with the employee about what she was doing. Fortunately, she listened to my advice. Had she wanted to continue with the inappropriate social activities she could have taken a sabbatical. I can’t have the risk of shutting the office down because of an unnecessary exposure. The area hospitals are also advising their staff on what they should and shouldn’t be doing outside of work. And they should be. We already have enough staff out and it is a sorry day when you might have to call in this specialist to care for inpatient covid cases. (So not my area of specialty.)

    1. pancakes*

      I don’t disagree the employee should get tested again, but there isn’t a nationwide 48-hour turnaround.

  115. A. S.*

    His doctor is wrong to clear him to go to work. The CDC guidelines state the girlfriend is cleared after 10 days + afebrile + feels well. Assume they are seeing each other daily, he quarantines for the same 10 days + an additional 14 days after her quarantine ends, to assure he doesn’t catch it from her on the very last day she is contagious. So 24 days.

  116. LGC*

    Okay, sliding in here VERY late, but…I strongly disagree with LW’s (and Alison’s) read, at least as expressed through the letter.

    Here’s why: I get LW’s anger about this – it sounds very inconvenient! But what I’m seeing according to the letter is that the girlfriend was in a really tough situation (okay, because of her own doing), and he offered her a space. I know this is a work blog, but just from a human perspective…if my SO lived with an especially high-risk individual and couldn’t isolate properly? I might be willing to take that risk myself. Even if the SO was infected because of their own recklessness, and to be clear, the girlfriend’s actions here were exceedingly reckless. Even if this came at an extremely inconvenient time.

    (I could probably write an entire screed on how part of the reason why the US is a disaster with coronavirus is because like literally everything else, it’s turned into a question of morality, but I’ll spare you that rant for today.)

    Okay, all that said: I think the morally right thing to do here is to pay him for the time to self-isolate. I also think…you’re a small business, LW. You don’t say that there’s nothing he can do from home (although I don’t know that for a fact). Can you at least assign him some work for those two weeks so you’re not paying him to idle? Failing that, I’m not sure if you can just offer him unpaid leave (because I’m not sure if you’re required to offer him paid leave under those circumstances).

    Also…it feels like you and your husband are taking this as a personal betrayal. I kind of get that – he took a really large risk at a really bad time! But if you feel like he did this at you, and this feeling continues…I’d seriously re-examine that, and if you’re really still mad at him for this going forward…it might be best for both of you if you parted ways. Even in this situation – I’d rather lay him off in that case and take whatever hit to UI, but if you’re going to hold this against him, then you guys really can’t work together, I think.

    1. LGC*

      Also, OP:

      1) I’d say this is a NAH, but honestly I do think that the girlfriend is kind of the asshole in this situation (for – you know – getting it lit in the middle of a respiratory pandemic). It’s NAH in your company, is what I’m saying.

      1a) You don’t say where you’re from, but if you’re from…like, most of the US, there’s probably a decent level of community spread. So while I think she might have met Miss Rona in her turn up, she could have run into her at the supermarket or pretty much anywhere else.

      1b) Okay, so you and your husband had asshole reactions, but that’s distinct from being an asshole. Like, firing the guy is an asshole move and I don’t approve of it, but also…like, I kind of understand why your husband would react that way. (Don’t fire him, because that would be assholish.)

      1c) This is the most I’ve talked about assholes since…well, at least since the new e-vehicle out of Germany was announced. (I thought it was Volkswagen, but apparently it’s independent.)

      2) I was wondering under what circumstances you would be required to offer leave (because I’m not sure of the exact parameters of the CARES Act leave), but…on the other hand, I’m really iffy on telling you there’s a way to avoid paying him. Like, “not paying him” should be the last option. Besides, I don’t know what this guy is making, but if he’s living at home with his parents, the answer for two weeks is “probably not that much in the grand scheme of things.” Even if you live in an expensive area.

      1. Hopefully not the asshole*

        OP here – Yeah, we do take it personally. It’s really, really hard not to with what we have been through since March. My husband reminded me last night though that we don’t pay our employee think about all the variables on how his actions could put our business at risk. That’s our job and sometimes it’s easy, sometimes like now it’s not. No he can’t work from home and yes we legally have to pay him under the CARES act. Though some have posted we somehow get a tax credit for that – though I did a bunch of research on that yesterday and came up with nil.

        FWIW – we are paying him. We aren’t firing him. We don’t want his GF’s grandma to get sick.

  117. Chris*

    At worst, the employee’s actions fall into the category of, “Good initiative, bad judgment.”

    1. Hopefully not the asshole*

      OP here – yup, I just said that myself two weeks ago. I’m probably an asshole. I did chuckle as I included the AITA part because of what I said two weeks. But it still helps to vet that out before getting too deep. Especially right now when none of us really know as much as we should about what to do and what is the right thing.

  118. specialist*

    This WOULD be a great time to have a talk with him on your expectations going forward. As I mentioned before, this worked really well with my employee. You can spell out what you expect from him. Wearing a mask whenever he is in a public space. Hand washing protocols. Social distancing. Expecting his girlfriend to prioritize the health and safety of loved ones over a party–and him telling her that. Basically all the things he should be doing to help end the pandemic, instead of being the dead weight that the rest of society has to pull along. (I’ve always hated having to carry slackers on my team.) And you should also be leading by example in this and be wearing your mask, washing your hands, and social distancing. Whomever above made the comment about the judge who talked the talk but then took a whole group of kids on an out of state trip really hit the nail on the head. Go ahead and tell that judge that someone on the internet thinks that he made a stupid decision and should do better in the future.

    I am glad to hear that you won’t be firing him. I don’t think this rises to the level of firing. However, I do think that, even if you had money for raises coming up, he wouldn’t be getting much of one.

    I think the payroll protection plan is now closed. Unless the legislature changes things, you may have missed out. This was really helpful for me, however. I did give my employees bonuses with the instructions to go forth and stimulate the economy. I also got the SBA loan. It was a lot of work and I’m still figuring out how to pay it back. This is really helpful and I highly recommend it. However, I also really tightened up expenditures and stuck some of the money back for another shut down. There were days when I was the only one in the office manning the phones. I’m also working whatever I can get so that I build up a bit of an AR to get me through. I know that I can’t maintain this level forever, and I really hope the hospital doesn’t call me to manage vents because the amount of work I’d need to do to get up to speed is pretty intimidating. I’ve made evaluations and worked out newer things that will work during the pandemic. You can do this, too. It may not be something you want to do, but the idea is to get by for now.

    Good luck.

  119. Toughtimes*

    I am so sorry OP that the pandemic has affected your family business so severely. I cannot imagine the stress. Look, at the end of the day it makes no difference if your employee intentionally or unintentionally exposed himself. I think you are right to have him return after 14 days from exposure to keep other employees (including yourself and your husband) safe. If you cannot afford to pay him + your part time employee, I would furlough him until he completes his 14-day quarantine guidelines, explaining you’re sorry but times are tight. If he quits he quits. There are no good choices during this pandemic. And you cannot pay employees with money that is not there. Im so sorry that you – that we all – are facing these hard choices.

    1. Toughtimes*

      I am seeing above that CARES applies to you. Sorry, I thought you had less than 50 employees. Ugh.

  120. Ask a Manager* Post author

    This has gotten so heated (people calling each other monsters, sociopaths, etc.) that I’m closing comments on this one.

    I changed the headline too — thanks for pushing me on it (those who did).

Comments are closed.