Covid-19 has forever changed life as we know it. To date, Covid-19 has claimed over 200,000 lives and counting in the US alone and has infected approximately 7.1 million US citizens. As with most public health crises, the impact on communities of color has been significant with African-American and Latinx communities contracting the virus and dying of the virus at a much higher rate than white Americans per NPR.
One of the biggest changes that it has heralded has been how we work. While many employers were forced to pivot to remote work in an effort to stem the spread of the virus, many employers did not for a slew of reasons including being categorized as an “essential service” or operating in a state that did not require them to limit onsite work. In mid-July, as much of the country was grappling with how to safely reopen the economy after many states implemented stringent lockdowns, AmPopsy reached out to several women from four different industries and asked them to share their fears, frustrations, and concerns with working through a pandemic that, months later, continues to claim lives and upend our way of life as we once knew it.
In Part One of this four-part series, we speak with Fay, a business attorney in California, about her office’s decision to remain open for onsite work throughout the pandemic, the safety protocols enacted, and the issues that can arise when the needs of a business are put ahead of the health of its employees.
Fay, Business Attorney
On her confidence in her employer’s safety precautions for Covid…
When the first shelter in place order came down in mid-March, the firm moved to a remote arrangement for the associates. However, staff remained at the office (and most of the partners continued to go in, as well). To their credit, the office, from day one, has required face coverings for everyone in public spaces and all visitors to the office. This policy continues to date. Hand sanitizer was readily available. And we were told that cleaning protocols were put in place for the cleaning crew.
On June 15th, the firm ordered the associates to come back to the office. At that time, much of California was just reopening, and there were significant protests at the same time. I remained working from home due to the fact that I live with elderly parents with significant health concerns. Flash to a month later, and California is seeing significant increased cases. And despite this, the associates have not been given the option to work remotely again, even though it would reduce the number of people in the office.
All in all, the firm’s response has been a mixed bag. Some things have been good (the face covering requirement, we each have been provided with our own hand sanitizer, and procedures were put in place for when clients come to the office). Some things have not been great – the rush to force associates back into the office, the fact that the option to work remotely has not been revisited, and the firm could have been more proactive about moving employees around to increase social distancing.
Also, recently, we were notified that an employee at another firm renting space within the building tested positive and that this person had been working in the office for at least a week before they got their test result back. While that firm sent everyone home for the day and tested everyone, my firm never closed and went through mental gymnastics to justify not closing and not testing anyone. There is still a prevailing feeling that the partners do not take this pandemic as seriously as they should and short of an actual outbreak in the office, will NOT close the doors.
On dealing with anxiety when working onsite…
I have gone into the office maybe 3 or 4 times since mid-March. Each time I felt very apprehensive, even with safety measures put in place at the office. Just touching surfaces outside of my office (like the copier and the restroom door) and walking from my office to my car gave me great unease. I didn’t really want to venture out to get lunch or even have it delivered to the office, so I skipped lunch each time. Granted, I didn’t do a full eight hours, but it still made for a long day without food. My solution has been to continue to work from home. Thankfully, the office has not pushed hard for me to go back to the office full time but if they were to do so, I would probably push back that I am more productive at home.
On the likelihood of being able to work from home permanently…
My employer will absolutely NOT be open to a permanent remote work environment. Part of it is financial – some of the partners at the firm own the building where the firm is located. So they are not going to okay a situation where the main tenant is not in the building. But more than that, my firm is VERY old- fashioned and insists upon doing things the way they’ve always been done (namely, with people in the office). In fact, the associates were ordered to return to the office on June 15th and have not been given the option to work remotely despite new shutdowns in California. The firm culture is just stuck in its antiquated ways. So, there is next to no possibility that we will see a permanent remote option.
Coming Up… Part Two where we speak with Jessica, an Operations Manager about working through the lockdown for an essential service provider.