I am the GM for a small brewery that has been shut down during the COVID-19 crisis as non-essential. However, the owner believes it is still worthwhile to stay open to serve take-out customers, which is allowed according to the shutdown rules. Because I am the GM, I have been designated as the lone onsite worker. I am happy to still have some work instead of going to zero revenue, but I am worried that I might contract the virus or bring it home to my roommates.
I thought staying open for takeout was a good idea until a few days ago, when the lockdown took effect in our area. The takeout business has now trickled to almost nil. I have tried to reason with my boss, but he insists that I need to show up for work and serve the few customers that are still coming in.
Before, I felt the risk I was taking was worth it to keep the business afloat. But now with sales slowed to a standstill, it just seems stupid to me.
Because I have asthma, my anxiety is ratcheting up as each day goes by. Can I be fired if I don’t want to work during this time? I would much rather stay safe at home and collect unemployment.
I can empathize with your anxiety. I recently watched a video on how to safely grocery shop and get your groceries home and stored properly. I have been doing it all wrong! We all need to seriously up our game to stay safe right now, and even then there are no guarantees.
I really can’t give you legal advice, as I am sure you are aware. All states have different regulations around the meaning of “lockdown” and “essential business.” You can probably get the detail you need on your state’s protections for employees online. To stay on top of California’s updates, I have been using the New York Times website that tracks all states. I poked around to find a real answer to your question and didn’t find much—probably because the situation you are in, although common right now, is still a fresh one. Here is one article that directly addresses the issue of how “essential” is defined—loosely—and what employees can do if they are forced to work under what they feel are unsafe conditions.
The most important thing right now is your assurance that it is safe for you to continue working. I assume the owners are providing you with everything you need to protect yourself—if not, I say you should leave right now.
Let’s say you do have all the protections you need. After educating yourself on all the precautions necessary, do you still believe you are taking a risk? My sense is that your answer is probably yes. If that is the case, you need to go back to your bosses and move past trying to talk reason to saying you are not signed up for this job. If the owners are so hell-bent on staying open, it is up to them to serve the odd customer who needs a growler filled. If that gets you fired, well, fine—then you can get unemployment. When this dark time is behind us, you can go get a new job in a company that makes the safety of their employees a priority.
If on the other hand you carefully review your situation and think, “Okay, this is safe enough, I can do this,” then why not? In another week or two, you will probably appreciate being able to get out of your house.
We have to balance our fear with common sense. I know it is hard to do. I keep convincing myself I am sick because I am short of breath, only to realize that it is because I am holding my breath. That isn’t helpful.
So move slowly, take all precautions, breathe, and stay fully present to each moment. You will know the right thing to do.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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