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Companies Issue COVID Gag Orders

Major companies are putting everyone at risk by telling their workers not to talk about positive COVID tests

Brian Young's picture
Sep 04, 2020

As companies bring their staff back to work, some big companies are beginning to institute new procedures. In addition to wearing masks, socially distancing, and adding things like plexiglass dividers, some big companies are instituting COVID-19 Gag rules to stop employees from talking to each other about positive cases in the workplace.

According to Bloomberg, hundreds of companies have begun instituting these procedures. This includes companies like the Cheesecake Factory, Amazon, Cargill, McDonald’s, and Target. OSHA complaints also reveal that workers at Smithfield Foods, Urban Outfitters, and General Electric may have received the same warning, talk and you will be disciplined or fired. Other companies, like Delta, have instructed their employees to “please refrain from notifying other crew members on your own” if they test positive for COVID or show COVID symptoms and over the summer WWE also faced public backlash after they instructed their staff not to speak to the public about the on-air talent who tested positive for COVID-19 after a series of outbreaks.

In some cases, it appears the gag order was more of a warning with the companies saying they have not nor will they fire or punish employees for speaking out, but workers at LiqGo, a beverage franchise in Indiana, were told that if they spoke about testing positive they would be fired.

Even teachers are facing gag orders. In Duval County, Florida, teachers received an email warning that any social media posts that would reflect badly on the district reopening would lead to disciplinary action. The reopening of schools has been highly politicized with schools in Florida being ordered to reopen for five days a week in-person classes just as cases were spiking in the state.

To justify the gag orders, employers are trying to hide behind HIPA laws saying that workers' privacy should come first. Yet, HIPA doesn’t prevent someone who is sick from telling other people that they may have been infected. While these gag orders are clearly meant to prevent a PR nightmare when an entire workplace tests positive for COVID-19 or a business being forced to shut down for two weeks because the staff all decide to quarantine, it is very dangerous. Contact tracing is needed to prevent larger outbreaks, but this only works if employees are able to tell their co-workers they may be infected.

"In many places, workplace exposures are driving the pandemic,” epidemiologist David Michaels, who ran OSHA under President Obama and is now a professor at George Washington University told Bloomberg. “To stop this pandemic, workers need to be listened to rather than silenced.”

While workers have the right to speak up at work, the NLRB has restricted that right during COVID-19. By silencing workers in regards to public health, companies are not only putting profits above all else, but they are also potentially allowing their workers and the public to be exposed to COVID-19, leading to further outbreaks.

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