The Omicron variant of Covid-19 has caused the U.S. to see record-high cases, forcing swaths of workers to quarantine at home.
However, frontline workers have cited experiencing pressure to stay at work during this labor shortage, symptomatic or not.
For instance, Jack in the Box employee Maria Bernal was told she likely had Covid-19 after experiencing symptoms including blurred vision and chills. In response to this, her manager told her to “just wear a mask and don’t tell anyone” according to the complaint she filed with Sacramento County’s public health department.
After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines that have left many confused, employers have gotten brazen about bringing workers back into the workplace, even if they have tested positive or been exposed.
The CDC recently shortened its isolation period from 10 days to five for those who are infected but are asymptomatic.
“A lot of workers feel pressure to come in — a supervisor is leaning on them, saying, ‘I really need you today,’” said Kristen Harknett, a professor of social behavioral sciences at UC San Francisco.
According to Harknett’s recent polling of service sector workers during the pandemic prior to the Omicron surge, two-thirds said that they still went to work when feeling sick.
The lack of paid sick leave, hostile managers, and the threat of losing pay has led workers who are ill to continue coming into the office.
However, white-collar workers at large corporations including Google and JPMorgan Chase have been offered access to frequent testing in wake of the at-home testing shortages.
This indicates a wide gap between high paid professionals and lower-wage workers who are still facing the challenge: go to work sick or lose out on pay.
If companies want to operate alongside the pandemic and keep employees in the workplace, specific precautions should be taken and communicated that keep them safe, particularly when there are surges in cases.
Offering workers paid sick leave, implementing safety precautions, and providing specific instructions for workers that are exposed to the virus or test positive can help companies stay open, while also retaining workers.