Is your firm asking you to periodically go to the office?
Among the many and varied serious situations brought about by the Covid-19 world crisis, are the growing number of employees asked by their firm’s partners to periodically and physically go to the office. I have heard from numerous legal professionals that they are expected to show up at the firm on a regular basis in order to gather the mail, deposit checks and more.
Is dying for the job part of your duties?
To say that this is not only outrageous and dangerous, it is a serious indication of:
- Numb to the situation: The partners either don’t care about you or believe nothing will happen
- Denial: The partners believe you and they are omnipotent – what’s going on worldwide doesn’t apply here. This is simply an inconvenience
- Fear: People are afraid that if they say no, they will lose their jobs
- Cowards: The partners are too afraid to personally go, so they send their employees to slaughter for absolutely nothing that can’t be accomplished remotely
- Hero: You are an employee with a hero complex
- Stupid: No one is thinking this through
- Mentally unfit: Oh yes, and frankly, wouldn’t you think the partners are self-centered. acting like sociopaths, thinking of no one else but themselves?
I am not exaggerating here. In our support group sessions and webinars on Stress in the Time of Covid-19, several people spoke up. One HR Manager said she is asked to go to the firm weekly to gather mail and checks. She said that she is extremely frightened and has two children. When asked why she continues, she says she is afraid she will lose her job. I pointed out this is not necessary. The firm can forward the mail to someone’s home. The checks can be deposited online. Wouldn’t you rather lose your job than lose your life or your children’s?
Her response was that it was too complex to send the mail home. So, let me get this straight. It's too complex to figure out a system, so you need to risk your life? I honestly don't get it.
I stated that if the firm is too big, it could send different departments to different employees i.e, real estate department is sent to John; Litigation is sent to Sally, etc. Her response was that she put gloves on, a mask and takes sanitizer with her. She reiterated she might lose her job. How about: Lose your job or lose your life or that of your kids?? The process of dividing up the mail was simply too hard. In essence, this employee would rather risk her life for the firm, rather than say no. And sadly, the firm would rather that she did risk her life than take an extra hour or two to figure this out in the name of safety.
Another employee stated that she was asked to hire a temp and go into the firm and supervise the temp. Working remotely was not an option. The partner wanted her to stand over the temp. Rather than risk her life, this employee quit and went on unemployment.
The stories go on and on. Here’s the deal, folks:
Unless you are a partner, you are not an owner of the firm. This is not your business, you are an employee. Nowhere in your job description does it say that you need to risk dying to keep your job.
If you go to the firm, you don’t know if you are going to run into someone who is carrying the virus and doesn’t know it. One employee said that there were very few people in the building when she went. Excuse me? There doesn’t have to be a lot of people around to catch the virus. Only one. The employee was not counting the security guard who may have it, the parking attendants, people passing her in the hallway, the virus still on cardboard, metal, computer keyboards, what the cleaning staff left, the mail and more, Wearing gloves and a mask still does not fully protect you. Just remember the bus driver wearing protective gear when the only person on the bus coughed on him. He died four days later.
Part of the problem with the way that wearing masks and staying at home is presented, is that it is portrayed that you are going to be a willing participant in bringing this virus to a halt, a team player and help to not get others infected. We all want to do that. However, hardly anyone is anyone saying that staying home, wearing protective clothing when going out, can prevent you from dying or bringing the virus to your home, kids, parents and others. The way it is mostly portrayed is that by staying home you will stop the virus from spreading. It's doesn't personalize your risks. The most effective ad I have seen, however, is the one that says: Are you willing to kill someone today?
Get this: Many, many people don’t care about others and furthermore, they firmly believe they don’t have it and won’t get it. Just recall all the kids on the Florida beaches who are now sick. The bottom line is, yes, you can die and cause your family to die – for the sake of the firm.
I would do anything, anything at all for my husband and kids. I would go on unemployment; I would stand in line at the Food Bank. I would do whatever it took. Listen up: A job is not a marriage. At some point, you leave.
Let’s look at it this way: If the stay-at-home order lasts another 12 weeks, and given you go to the firm once a week, that is 12 times more you will be asked to risk your life for the sake of the firm. Twelve times of uncertainty and chance. For what???? Because partners would rather you get the virus than they? Let the partner go in. It’s his business. Let him risk his life if he thinks going is so important. Why should you? Really – think about it – why should you?
For those of you fearful of getting fired, I doubt you would get fired now. It would be clear retaliation. You may get let go in the future by some vindictive partner, that’s true. But is that a firm you want to stay in? I am not an attorney but I will betcha $.25 (I never go more than $.25) that if you do get fired and sue, there isn’t a judge in the world who would rule in favor of a firm who asked a staff member to risk their life. (Perhaps you should suggest the firm have a virtual meeting with a labor lawyer before this comes to a head.)
Say no. Yes, say no. You can do it in a non-confrontational manner:
This firm has always been known for its teamwork. It’s one of the reasons why I enjoy working here. However, these are dangerous and unprecedented times. Sometimes we just don’t know how to handle it or what to do.
While I appreciate the faith you have put in me by asking me to go to the firm once a week, at this point, I am going to have to decline. I have given the situation a great deal of thought and while I never want to let the firm down, given that the risks to disobey the stay-at-home order will likely substantially increase my chances of getting the virus, I will no longer be able to make those trips.
I would like to have a virtual meeting next Wednesday to brainstorm how we can accomplish exactly what you need to get the job done. I have a couple of ideas I am sure will you will like. Would 10am work or would 2pm be better?
A mom who loves her family so much
If it were me, I would not want to see this written on my tombstone:
Here lies Chere Estrin who died in a foolish attempt to fetch mail for the firm.
Please think before you undertake a dangerous and unnecessary act. Stay safe for your sake and the sake of your family. Nothing is forever and I don’t think I am wrong in saying that in a not too distant future, we will be looking at the light at the end of the tunnel and it will not be a train coming at us. Guaranteed.
PS: We are holding one hour sessions for Managers and Administrators on Coping with Stress During These Times on Wednesdays, 10am Pacific/1pm Eastern with Mark Gorkin, The Stress Doc. There ae four more free sessions. Send me an email to register: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top staffing organization in California. She is also the President of the Organization of Legal Professionals. Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She is a former administrator in an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: email@example.com.