Workers’ dilemma: Get a paycheck, or play it safe?

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Get a paycheck, or play it safe — it’s a dilemma many are facing as the coronavirus continues to spread in workplaces.

One mother said she thinks she came in contact with one of her coworkers who has COVID-19. She claims her supervisor will let her go home and quarantine, but without pay. 

But that’s easier said than done.

“It’s just stressful right now. It’s really stressful,” said the woman, who didn’t want to give her identity because she’s afraid she’ll lose her job at a plasma center.

She says two coworkers tested positive for COVID-19, and she believes she came in close contact with one of them. She said her supervisor told her if she would like to quarantine she could, but she won’t get paid for it.

“But I need to work because I have a family and I need my income to pay my bills,” she said. “I am a single parent, but I don’t want to risk myself nor my family health.”

Jeffrey Lichtenstein with the Memphis AFL-CIO labor council said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the laws that formed it give people the right to refuse work that’s unsafe.

But he said that can be a long process. He also said local government can’t force private companies to offer paid sick leave.

“Unfortunately in Tennessee, our cities do not have the power to require that, because it’s been taken away by their legislature,” Lichtenstein said.

He says some workers have secured better pay and protection in this COVID crisis through their unions.

“On the other hand you have folks who don’t have representation … that go to the heart on the situation,” he said. “It’s another opportunity for us to think deeply about what we value as a society and begin to change that.”

The health department has said if someone in your office tests positive for COVID, it doesn’t mean the entire building must shut down. They will assess the situation and let folks know if they’re at risk and need to quarantine.

For advice and information about your rights as  worker:

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