For weeks, “Carolyn” told the five of us in our department that she had allergies whenever any of us asked her about her sneezing. She worked with us in the same building, used the same copier, restroom and office fridge and drank from the same coffeepot.
I tried to avoid her because she kept forgetting her mask and didn’t seem to understand what six feet of separation meant. I saw that she didn’t use sanitizing wipes after she used the copier or coffeepot, so I wiped the copier before I used it and started bringing my own coffee from home. I didn’t talk with the others about this because I’m not a gossip. I regret that now.
Because Carolyn’s and my job overlapped and I have underlying health conditions, I suggested she get a COVID test. Carolyn brushed me off, said it was too hard to get one and then claimed she’d tried but didn’t have time to wait in the long line for the test and gave up. I finally talked with my supervisor. She said, “Carolyn has allergies and it’s a bad pollen year,” as if that was the end of the story.
I kept my mouth shut after that, until last week. HR emailed us we all need to work from home because an unnamed coworker tested positive for COVID. We were told we all needed to get tested. The five of have talked among ourselves and it’s clear unnamed person was Carolyn. Yesterday, one of my coworker’s fever started spiking and I’m scared stiff I’m next.
I’m angry and frustrated. I’m tired of masks too, but I wear them. I sanitize everything even though it takes extra time. I don’t go anywhere except to my job. None of that protects me from a coworker who doesn’t have a clue.
Carolyn put us all at risk. Our offices are being professionally cleaned and I believe the expense and productivity issues this causes may lead to more layoffs. What can those of us who take COVID seriously do when we work with the clueless?
You took many of the right steps, just not enough of them. When you work with someone who persists in denial or feels it inconvenient or uncomfortable to observe essential precautions, you need to alert HR or management above your supervisor’s level concerning the situation.
Your supervisor blew it when she shut you down. Carolyn may have had pollen-related issues, however, she showed poor judgment by not observing what we all know are essential safety precautions that can prevent a potentially fatal illness.
Going forward, your employer needs to completely disinfect your workplace, create and enforce policies related to sanitation, mask-wearing and physical distancing, and broaden their policies to allow them to send home and require a COVID-test of any employee who shows potential COVID symptoms.
If your employer needs convincing, show them the Chicago Tribune story1 that details the wrongful death lawsuit filed against Walmart. Store managers allegedly ignored an employee’s COVID-19 symptoms and failed to let other employees know one of their coworkers might be infected. Both the initially infected employee and a coworker died.
The lawsuit alleges the store put employees and the public at risk by failing to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommendations. This pandemic isn’t over; cases are spiking. We can’t afford to treat safety protocols or employee concerns casually.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry authored “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” (both on Amazon.com) and founded www.workplacecoachblog.com. Curry is President of Communication Works Inc. Send your questions to her at email@example.com or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.