Am I Out of Line for Not Wanting to Go to the Office?
April 23, 2020 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I work in a very small business. Less than five people during normal times. We are in the tristate area (NY/NJ/CT), in an area very hard hit by the virus. I last was in the office in mid-March and have not been in since.

I let my boss know that I was available to work from home, however that is not really easily done, since to do my primary job duty, I need to be in the shop. I have been working from home, mostly doing the clean-up administrative stuff that gets neglected normally.

In the last four weeks there's been only one employee there, fulfilling online orders. We stopped taking walk-in customers five weeks ago, but I think the mailman has still been entering to pick up and drop off mail. However since I haven't been there, I don't know exactly how how many people have been in the physical space. People have been mailing us stuff to sell.

My boss has asked me if I would be willing to come into the office this weekend so I can do the work that can pretty much only be done there. I am very, very reluctant to do so, even though I would be the only person there, and would be able to clean everything at my work station, as well as everything that I would be handling. I have a sole N95 mask (that was acquired long before the pandemic), and there are gloves and plenty of cleaning supplies.

My partner and I both think that this is way too early to think about going in, even for one day a week.

I have no health insurance, and as an additional complication, we are looking in on my partner's mother and spouse, buying groceries and taking out the garbage. I'm a healthy person in middle age with no pre-existing conditions.

I'm willing to go on UI if need be, and my boss seems amenable to that. I have confidence that I would still have a job there if/when this is over.

Should I go in?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total)
With no health insurance and caring for elderly people? Of course not. Stay home if you can.
posted by fritley at 8:05 AM on April 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Actually being in the office sounds very low-risk -- no risk of transmission through the air since you will be the only one there, and very low risk of transmission from surfaces since you can clean everything you will be touching.

But what is your mode of transportation to get to the office? If you can drive door-to-door, that's also pretty low-risk, but public transit will expose you more and probably isn't a good idea right now for non-essential activities.

That said, if going into the office will cause you a large amount of anxiety, and you're willing and able to go on UI, maybe that's the best option for your mental health.
posted by mekily at 8:07 AM on April 23, 2020 [30 favorites]

Not at all.
posted by Max Power at 8:43 AM on April 23, 2020

Yeah, I was starting to think that maybe this could be a semi-reasonable trip given that you'd be alone and could clean everything you needed to touch, but then I got to the part about you having no health insurance and also having contact with elderly people. That plus the fact that you are uncomfortable about going in all adds up to "you are absolutely right to turn down this request" to me.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:51 AM on April 23, 2020 [7 favorites]

The only person who can address your risk profile is you. If you do not go in, what needs to change before you will go? Is it time? Something else? What if your company can do what you need? Would you go in then? It sounds like you are risk adverse. Based on what your wrote, I would not go. It sounds like if anything happened to you or your family you will always regret having gone in. Can you live with that?

As an outsider independent reading only what your wrote, it sounds to me like the situation is low risk, but not no risk. Under similar circumstances, I would go in, but I have a different risk profile than you.

Good luck.
posted by AugustWest at 8:54 AM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

Can you ask yourself in what way this is higher risk than a weekly trip to the grocery store?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:44 AM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Your boss is not giving you protective equipment or health insurance. No. Don't do them any favors.
posted by latkes at 12:42 PM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

Can you go in on Sunday so that the office will have been empty for 36+ hours or so? No public transportation? The only people who have been in there are a co-worker and mail carrier. With that, and a mask and gloves, you are pretty safe, as there is no person-to-person contact. Safer than going to the grocery store. However, this is stressing you out a lot. Ask your boss if you'll be covered by worker's comp if you become ill. Ask yourself what specifics make you concerned. This is an incredibly stressful time.
posted by theora55 at 3:02 PM on April 23, 2020

If you are able to drive (or walk) and not take transit, this sounds less risky to me than a grocery store trip. However, there's no reason you should take this risk for free if you don't have to, especially as your office is almost certainly not supposed to be open at all. I'm guessing you're hourly, and maybe part-time? If you do do it (and I'm not saying you're unreasonable if you don't), ask for hazard pay.
posted by praemunire at 5:34 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
A deep and sincere thanks for all the thoughtful responses. I trusted my gut and decided not go to the office this weekend, despite the fact that I really miss going to work and being productive. I did leave the possibility open to coming in in the next few weeks, depending on how the virus progresses in the area. As far as I can tell there is no end date for the state's shelter in place order (NJ).

I am a full-time employee, have been there the longest, already had keys, and have my own car. To his credit, my boss has kept me on payroll so I haven't had to go on unemployment yet. There's also the fact that this is not an essential business, and I think my boss has counted on flying under the radar.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:52 AM on April 27, 2020

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