Workers are forced to return to work despite growing health risks

In December, the CDC shorten the period of isolation for people infected with COVID-19 from 10 to 5 days. While the decision is beneficial for business owners and employers, it has proven to be detrimental to workers, many of which were forced to return to work despite obvious health risks.

The decision to shorten the isolation periods and relax the strict guidelines came from the desire to reduce labor shortages in the United States, but the New York State Nurses Association said in a statement that this “will only make the shortage worse and put our patients at risk”.

Dr. Tara C. Smith, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor at Kent State University, responded to the CDC’s amended guidelines in a Tweeter saying, “Employers, who already have understaffed workplaces, will pressure/force workers to come back on day 5. I’m also concerned that they’ll ignore the ‘asymptomatic’ part and even force those who have been sick to come back. Who protects employees?

The impacts of forced labor

More … than 19 million people in the United States have been infected with COVID-19 in the past month, with the country reaching a seven-day average of 806,851 in mid-January. Much of these included health care and a service workersWho did not have the ability to work remotely.

“Low-wage service workers have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to their limited influence over the terms of their employment and the fact that their jobs require face-to-face interaction with the public,” said Alan Romero, an employment agent. attorney from Pasadena, California.

Workers in the education, health and service sectors were already working throughout the pandemic. The updated guidelines have made matters worse for those trying to do all they can to avoid getting infected.

“I had to go back to campus because we needed teachers in the classrooms,” said Mae, a K-12 educator near Illinois. “We were told that if you are vaccinated and do not show symptoms, you must return unless you are immunocompromised. We were screened weekly and unless we tested positive we were in class, exposing ourselves every day.

BIPOC service workers are disproportionately affected because the community already faces systemic biases. COVID-19 unemployment data from the Economic Policy Institute suggests that black and Latino workers “face significantly more economic and health insecurity from COVID-19 than white workers.” Data shows that between February and April 2020, the unemployment rate for blacks was 16.7%, compared to an unemployment rate of 14.2% for whites. This stems both from the existing racial pay gap and biased treatment of BIPOC employees.

“I have an ongoing case against a hotel operator who required BIPOC cleaning staff to enter the rooms of COVID-positive guests to clean them immediately upon departure, instead of waiting the required 24 hours as directed by CDC guidelines,” Romero said. The only motivation was profit: Leaving the room unoccupied for 24 hours interfered with the hotel owner’s profits, he added. “These cases are often exacerbated when service workers are predominantly BIPOC and when employers believe that as a result, workers are less likely to file complaints or risk their jobs by insisting on health and safety protections. .”

“We don’t earn enough to take unpaid leave”

While most companies and employers don’t outright tell employees to come to work while infected with COVID-19, limited sick leave and the shortened isolation policy have made it easier for workers to return to work forcibly. before they are better at risk. to be fired.

A joint investigation by Popular Information and More Perfect Union recently discovered that Red Lobster staffers were forced to work when sick because there was not enough paid time off policy. Management insisted that employees come to work sick or find adequate coverage for their shift, which has been particularly difficult during the pandemic. The report said employees were “threatened” to come to work despite health issues or “being written off”.

Some workers say it’s hard to miss work if the free time comes from your own pocket.

“We only have 10 days a year,” Mae said, adding that she had avoided all social activities for the past two years because being infected would mean a significant loss of income. “I am terrified because I am my own supplier. I have no safety net. I have no family to rely on.

Echoing Mae’s story, a Los Angeles-based marketing associate says she was forced to return to work despite health issues because she had no money. .”

“Just because you can’t see the hurt doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” she said. “Many people are in pain and very afraid of losing their source of income, but in return their bodies will continue to suffer.”

The paid vacation solution

Beyond the legal aspect, some workers say the general attitude towards work needs to change so that employers can normalize by putting people before profit.

“There have been ‘lazy worker’ messages circulating in this country since the pandemic,” Nicole said. “It’s a stigma that puts a lot of pressure on people to work when they don’t feel safe, or for employers to look down on workers when they voice safety concerns.”

A potential solution beyond allowing workers to stay home when sick is to provide enough paid time off so employees don’t have to risk their lives to earn a living. In March 2020, the US government introduced the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which offered free coronavirus testing and up to 80 hours of paid leave to workers affected by COVID-19. The policy expired on Dec. 31, 2021, leaving different states to set their own rules for paid recuperation leave.

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently reimplemented a state policy it would require employers to give workers up to two weeks of paid sick leave, both for workers infected with COVID-19 and for those who have to care for an affected family member. The move could find a middle ground between a labor shortage and forcing people back into their jobs. New York has a flexible paid vacation policy where the number of mandatory paid holidays offered depends on the size of the company and the number of employees in the organization. States like North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and many more have no such paid vacation policy for the benefit of workers affected by the virus. If more states implemented policies like California’s, it would give workers the ability to self-isolate and take care of themselves and their families when they are sick, rather than going work and risk infecting others.

Sakshi Udavant is a freelance journalist and content writer with an academic background in psychology. She covers social issues, technology, mental health and wellbeing for titles like Business Insider, Digital Trends, NextCity, The Independent and others. Follow his updates on Twitter at @TheWriterLuna

Prism Ihis BIPOC-led nonprofit news briefing that focuses on the people, places, and issues currently underreported by the national media. We are committed to producing the kind of journalism that treats Black, Indigenous and People of Color, women, the LGBTQ+ community and other invisible groups as experts on our own lived experiences, resilience and struggles. for righteousness. Subscribe to our mailing list to get our stories delivered to your inbox and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and instagram.

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