Essential Worker

There’s no place for pandemic caution in my company culture

From Kitchener, ON

Sat May 08 2021


I work for an essential workplace where we have staff both on site and working office jobs. In spring 2020 we closed our offices and only had those who could not perform their jobs from home go to our sites. This was the last time period I felt safe at work. By the time we got to the summer, our business carried on like the COVID-19 didn’t even exist, including people sharing meals and having drinks together after work. I was the sole person wearing a mask and kept my distance from people. They told me to stop being paranoid, and interpreted my refusal to accept invitations to lunch as being antisocial. My supervisor encouraged me not to wear the mask all day for fear I would get hypoxia. I would attempt to attend meetings virtually and my supervisor would demand I come into the boardroom, once in front of our client.

A few other people had the same concerns as me but they were not confident enough to wear a mask or speak up about it, in the face of everyone else pressuring them not to. I scheduled a one-on-one with the health and safety lead to express my concerns and provide suggestions, nothing changed. My team attempted to implement a mask policy just in our work area and we faced significant backlash from the health and safety lead and from management for not complying with the company’s no-mask policy. One member of upper management refused to come into our work area if we were going to make them wear a mask, and even mocked my co-worker in front of our client for wearing a face shield.

When the province wide shutdown was announced in December all staff were told we were essential and could only work from home under extenuating circumstances. Anyone who works from home isn’t stopped, but is met with resistance and pressure to return to the office. The company culture puts a lot of emphasis on face-to-face interaction and the perception is that anyone who isn’t present isn’t doing their job. I requested to work from home at that time but my supervisor insisted via email that my presence at the workplace was essential, despite the fact that I was able to work from home for months at the beginning.

We didn’t implement a mask policy until January and the majority of staff don’t enforce it well if at all. At the site I work at I am the only person enforcing the mask policy and documenting infractions. Fortunately, my immediate team takes COVID seriously and follows up on any infractions I note. I was speaking to workers about our mask policy at another site as well, until the supervisor at that site contacted management and accused me of harassing them and their staff. I had to stop enforcing the policy anywhere other than my site, and workers at my site think we’re hypocrites for enforcing masks with them while our management team isn’t complying.

The most frustrating aspect of this year-long journey of discomfort, isolation and confrontation is that the company has been following the absolute bare minimum of the government guidelines the whole time. I have spent hours doing my own research and I can never quite find a strong enough violation to write up any formal complaint. If I tried to contact some sort of authority, they would not be able to find anything explicitly wrong, and the whole company would know I was the one that made the call. I used to love working here but my trust in the company has been severely damaged and will never be repaired to the level that it was.

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