Is My Job Checking Groceries Worth Putting My Health On The Line?

Question:

I work in a grocery store. At first I was grateful for my job but now not so much. We’re not allowed to wear face masks on my shift because my supervisor says it will scare shoppers away.

The supervisor on the other shift allows face masks, but mine has made it clear that anyone he catches wearing one won’t get full hours. I’m scared to be without a mask, but I need all the hours I can get. I can’t say anything about this because I can’t afford to lose my job. I just hope someone else says something.

Answer:

You have the right to protect yourself. Your employer needs to protect you as well. Here’s an immediate option. When you’re next off shift, make a confidential call to the manager above your supervisor. Tell him what you’ve told me, and remind him that employers need to carefully handle any safety concerns voiced by employees as OSHA prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who raise safety concerns.

If you’re afraid to do this, call me back and let me know which store you work for. I’ll call your manager. After you called me last week, I checked with twenty neighbors to see what their experience had been in local stores. Several customers echoed your story and said grocery store checkers had told them they weren’t allowed to wear masks. As recently as April 1st, Office Depot employees were told that they were not to wear masks in the store and Walgreens workers were discouraged from wearing them.1

I can tell your manager that the twenty neighbors, their customers, want cashiers, stockers and other store workers to wear protective masks and gloves and to use them correctly.

Your supervisor may not have kept up with the latest guidance from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC now recommends that Americans wear cloth face masks in public. Those who come into direct contact with the public face a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and need to protect themselves. I personally hope N95 masks are reserved for medical workers and that the rest of us use alternative face coverings.

Like many, I consider grocery store workers, like police officers, nurses, physicians, pharmacists and bus drivers, to be unsung heroes of coronavirus. Thank you for the vital role you play by putting your health on the line to provide food, household essentials and safety to the rest of us. I’m grateful when you wear face masks and have access to hand sanitizer. I’m grateful to store managers that ask staff to sanitize self-checkout and high-touch areas, install floor markers to create physical customer distancing and send home ill workers.

Nationally, many employees fear their employers are taking their safety for granted. Many workers have walked off the job to protest the lack of protective equipment and employer-sponsored safety measures. Last week, Amazon warehouse workers walked off the job and Whole Foods Market employees arranged a sickout. Like you, they don’t want to risk their lives for a paycheck.

According to the LA Time’s Friday edition, a number of major chains including Walmart and Costco have offered employees bonuses or temporary raises during this pandemic. Many large retailers, including Target, have started to allow masks but are leaving it to employees to procure their own masks.1 Walmart said last week that it would supply masks to employees but reported that delivering them to all its stores might take up to two weeks.

Finally, please let your manager know that if your store doesn’t protect your health, you might infect multiple shoppers during the days before you exhibit symptoms yourself. We need you to stay healthy. Please let me know what your manager says.

1https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/01/business/coronavirus-retail-workers-masks.html

 

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and www.workplacecoachblog.com. Curry is now a Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting at Avitus Group. Send your questions to her at Lcurry@avitusgroup.com or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

 

 

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