Some essential workers are inevitably going to be exposed to those who have the coronavirus. Medical workers, volunteers, and staff at homeless shelters, food pantries, etc., are unfortunately likely to find themselves exposed on a near-daily basis.
Other essential workers, such as delivery persons, are also being exposed. Not just through contact with customers, but even through their workplaces. Earlier this month, rumors of someone being ill spread through a UPS facility–the worker eventually died from the virus.
Food workers also fear that their roles will expose them to the virus when they would otherwise be sheltering-in-place. Grocery stores and restaurants are high-risk zones for the potential spread of the virus from direct or indirect contact with those who may not even know they’re carrying the virus.
The former CDC guidelines were that those who had been exposed should stay home, whether demonstrating symptoms or not.
The new guidelines this week, however, are saying the opposite: “To ensure continuity of operations of essential functions, CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.”
There are hundreds of thousands of essential workers around the country, risking their health and even their lives. Many do not consider themselves essential, knowing their employment does not meet the definitions provided by the government. Some companies are exploiting the definitions provided by the government and forcing their employees to return to work under various unnecessary circumstances.
Some of these companies have suffered consequences for their obstinate refusals – such as GameStop – but the victims of these practices are the employees, their families, neighbors, and anyone else they come in contact with.
While HIPAA guidelines prevent an employer from directly revealing the name of an employee who’s ill, they are obligated to notify employees of the infection.
According to several lawyers early on in the shut-downs, “Employees with acute respiratory illness symptoms…should be separated from other workers and sent home immediately after reporting to occupational health. If an employer learns that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, the employer may have obligations to notify co-workers who may have been exposed while protecting the confidentiality of the employee who is ill.”
Some employees may be afraid to speak up against these problems, but according to OSHA, employers cannot retaliate against an employee for their concerns. OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program also enforces protections for workers who speak up against these health violations in the workplace.
If you believe the company you work for is practicing harmful policies and exposing employees to the Coronavirus unnecessarily, please contact Corporate offices, local government, and take it to social media.