Partner not permitted to stop working, what are our options?
March 19, 2020 11:50 AM   Subscribe

My partner works as a personal assistant/laborer for a local business owner and has not been given the option to perform distancing/quarantine...and I am low key freaking out.

They are commuting daily by ferry to their employer’s home as well as multiple different businesses (in home changing lightbulbs etc, out in the world shutting down their restaurants as well as taking/picking up their car for service, shopping for household needs, etc). We are in the Seattle area, and they are travelling between the islands, south suburbs and Seattle proper. No plans to give Partner time off, some discussion between them and Employer of attempting to violate official quarantine if it is announced. I am extremely uncomfortable with this arrangement, but Partner assures me they are taking precautions and sees no ethical problem with Employer behaving this way. My disease fear and my class consciousness are both pinging wildly about this, though...these people are putting my partner at risk to minimize their own and I’m terrified both of getting sick and of getting outrageously resentful of Partner’s job overall. I’m already a little squicked out that they are basically a domestic servant.

How should I frame this concern to them? To myself, even? Are there legal implications here? I’m already nervous about this since partner is a legal resident, not a citizen. Is there a way to minimize my own exposure without seeming like a panic monkey (I am already being a panic monkey right now tbh)? How do I deal with the growing resentment of the existence of a damned servant class in general, and it being exacerbated by the very real off loading of potential harm? Just, help.
posted by zinful to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Well one option open to your partner, if they wish to do so, is to simply stop going to work. Perhaps they will be eligible for unemployment or perhaps like so many other people out there they will be left without an income. Obviously there are downsides to this but it is an option that your partner could choose if they wish.

If you want to minimize your own exposure, perhaps you have a friend or family you could move in with? Maybe there is someone who is compatible with you as far as social distancing who needs help with childcare while they are working from home, or an older person who needs help with tasks. The difficulty would be that such a person might feel that you are too high risk to move in with them, but some people are just deciding now to increase their level of social distancing. Or perhaps you could go on a long distance backcountry hike and return home in a few weeks.

I don't think there is any good way to minimize your own exposure to a person you live with who has a much higher exposure level than you are comfortable with. Your partner is allowed to feel like you are a panic monkey, but you are allowed to decide which is more important to you, taking precautions or persuading your partner you are not a panic monkey.

How do I deal with the growing resentment of the existence of a damned servant class in general, and it being exacerbated by the very real off loading of potential harm?

Violent revolution is the traditional method.

This will probably increase your exposure. You'll have to decide which is more important.
posted by yohko at 12:07 PM on March 19 [9 favorites]


What an awful situation. There are no good options, really.
—Partner could decrease exposure by quitting and staying home.
—Partner could decrease exposure by staying at the employers house. This would eliminate the exposure on a commute, and eliminate risk to you.
—You could isolate from partner in a separate area of your home, as may be possible.
—move out, as Yohko says above.
Now is probably not the best time for the revolution. Let’s save that for next year. :-)
posted by SLC Mom at 12:21 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Your partner could carry a little bit of pepper or cinnamon with them, and take a little dose before each of their interactions with their boss, coughing loudly and insisting "no, no, I'm fine, and I need the income, I'll be *glad* to work closely with you! I don't need to stay home and recover, I'm sure its nothing!"
posted by Reverend John at 12:54 PM on March 19 [12 favorites]


For partner to minimize risk of exposure: Ask them to wear gloves (latex/rubber, not cloth or leather) most of the time, changing to tool-appropriate when necessary (i.e. put on leather gloves before changing lightbulbs, etc.) Don't shake hands. Stay a few steps away from people for conversing. (Keeping the recommended 6 feet of distance might not be accepted - but any distance helps.)

If there are people, like employer, who think that's "too much" and "alienating" or "fearmongering," Partner can remind them that Partner encounters many strangers in the course of a week, and is trying to minimize exposure risk for everyone Partner works with. Partner can hint at, "You don't know whether the last person I talked to is infected."

Wearing a mask is currently not recommended except for people with symptoms, but might be useful to minimize dust and pollen exposure - and it will remind people that there are things in the air you don't want to breathe right now.

Convince Partner to wash hands often, and use sanitizer if available. Find out if Partner can refuse to visit with anyone with noticeable symptoms, like coughing. (If not, find out if Employer will sign a form saying Partner is required to work with people who may have the coronavirus, and Employer will pay medical expenses that arise from this additional risk.) (...Employer will certainly not sign any such thing, but bringing up the question will remind Employer that they are requesting Partner work in a plague zone, and Partner is allowed to take reasonable precautions.)

Partner may, however, request a written notice that Employer is requesting Partner to continue working though the current travel etc. restrictions. (This can be phrased as "in case I need to show anyone or risk being sent home by authorities.")

And mostly: Try not to panic. There are ways to mitigate risks even in high-risk settings: keep distance, wash often, have Partner shower and change out of work clothes as soon as Partner gets home.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:57 PM on March 19 [5 favorites]


Are you in an area that has a shelter-in-place or similar order?
posted by Lexica at 1:32 PM on March 19


The King County Department of Public Health has as advised all King County residents to self isolate as of Tuesday.

As it is phrased as "advice" it sounds like they aren't yet legally enforcing penalties to people who violate it yet, however...

The right thing for your partner to do, if you can afford it, is to immediately call out in accordance with the self isolation order and stop coming to work.

Not doing so endangers others.

I would also file for unemployment, especially if the boss's response is "you're fired." In some ways that might make it easier since firing you for obeying a public health order is almost certainly not going to be counted as fired with cause right now. The process can be done online, but their online identity verification process does require you to have been at the same address for over a year. If not, you will have to call anyway. The lines are, obviously, super busy right now, so it will likely be very hard to get through, but they do seem to offer an option to have them call you back. When I checked last Tuesday, the callback signups were booked until Monday, so it's best to get in line as soon as you can, even if you're not 100% sure you're going to qualify.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:37 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


My questions would be: is this job required for partner's healthy insurance? and can you and partner be financially OK without their income? I think that this is reckless and puts you and your larger community at much greater risk, especially since they're traveling to so many different locations and presumably coming in contact with multiple people. Seattle is a hotspot right now and your partner's employer is clearly not looking out for them.
posted by quince at 2:38 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


We need the money, and Partner does need the health insurance (this country smh). I had a fit yesterday that they were asked to deliver/cleanup a “community gathering” that Employer was throwing to offload their food that will otherwise end up tossed out, threatened to report it and convinced them to bow out. They don’t like saying no to employers, but hopefully are starting to see that this isn’t usual case scenario.

(Anonymously reported the gathering anyway, plans were for over 300 people which is currently illegal in the state of Washington)

Thanks everyone for responding, I’ve gone from “panic mode every day they come home” to having a plan in place re:immediate shower, etc. I mostly just wish there was something more the state was doing to force employers hands in protecting their employees.
posted by zinful at 9:22 AM on March 21




Are there legal implications here?

For legal implications, the answer is to Get a lawyer (MeFi Wiki). In Washington, your partner can contact the Unemployment Law Project ("a statewide, not-for-profit law firm that is established to provide advice, education, advocacy, services, and representation to unemployed workers, to defend the rights and benefits of workers and unemployed people, to advise workers regarding benefits, and to prevent economic insecurity among Washington’s working population"), which offers advice to people in all stages of the unemployment benefits process, including those who are still employed, via a telephone Helpline.

As a matter of general information, not legal advice, from the ULP website: I quit my job because my worksite safety deteriorated.
According to the law, you can expect that your worksite complies with state and federal health and safety regulations. If you become of aware of safety issues AFTER beginning work, you may be able to establish “good cause” to quit by showing the following:

(1) You told your employer, supervisor, or manager about the safety issue.

(2) You gave your employer, supervisor, or manager a reasonable amount of time to correct the safety issue and he failed to correct the issue. Note: if the safety issue poses a threat of serious bodily injury or death to any person, your employer, supervisor, or manager must correct the issue immediately.
Legal advice specific to the particular circumstances is needed to determine how to proceed with a claim for unemployment insurance benefits, and how to communicate with the employer, as well as other employment rights issues (NELA).
posted by katra at 10:29 PM on March 22


Just wanted to give a little update since the information I gave changed, it looks like the unemployment department website no longer requires living at the same address for over a year for verifying without a phonecall.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:39 PM on March 23


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