Warning: A proud Dad tells a story about his oldest daughter handling a cornavirus issue with her employer and a co-worker.
First of all, I’m proud of my oldest daughter.
I am proud of how she has matured and grown as a person, proud of her achievements in school and in life, proud of the ethical decisions she has made and her commitment to stick to her values, and proud of how she has taken a pragmatic and responsible approach to living her day to day life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The other day, she told me about a decision she made that related to her work and the threat of coronavirus. And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realized that this was a model approach… And another reason to be proud of her.
Here is the story…
My daughter attends college in Virginia, but works throughout the year for a national restaurant chain. This restaurant chain does a lot of wonder things for their employees (tuition reimbursement and free meals), and my daughter has been working for this company since high-school. They have been her only employer and quite frankly, she loves the company, the work and the people.
Similar to many companies that serve the public and handle food, this restaurant has been very supportive of its workforce during the COVID pandemic. When employees get sick and have coronavirus symptoms, they cover the cost of testing and insist they quarantine. Employees get some pay while they quarantine and the company insists they provide a negative test result before they return to work. All sensible and good policies.
However, what happens if someone travels for several days to a place for a vacation? And not just any place, but a place where the coronavirus is spreading fast and new cases and deaths are increasing rapidly?
One such place where coronavirus is spreading rapidly is Florida.
We all know that Florida is experiencing increases in COVID-19 infections. Florida has surpassed New York and has the second highest number of coronavirus cases in the country (California is #1). At 10,000 new cases a day, Florida has the highest new case count in the country (California is #2).
And we know that young people traveling to Florida for parties, beach time and vacation fun have become sick following their return to their home states. In some cases, these young adults have helped spread coronavirus to others.
Recently, a co-worker of my daughter traveled to Florida for fun. While such trips are not on my daughter’s radar, she does not tell people how to live their lives. What she does expect is that if you put yourself in higher risk situations for contracting the coronavirus, you should respect other people and take some common sense / responsible steps to avoid passing the virus onto others.
So, when the co-worker returned to Virginia from her Florida vacation, my daughter was surprised that this person was immediately put back on the work schedule.
Upon seeing the schedule, my daughter politely asked her manager if the restaurant could wait a few days to make sure this person was OK before she returned to work. She also asked her co-worker to forego coming to work for a short time and get tested – just to be safe.
Some people may consider this kind of behavior “bossy” or inappropriate from a young woman. In fact, when I shared this story with my friends on Facebook, I had one friend say this was “fear mongering.”
My daughter only made these requests for her welfare, for the welfare of her coworkers and the for public who patronize the restaurant. No judgement. No fear mongering. No anger. No personal attacks. She just considered the facts and suggested what I think was a pragmatic course of action.
Like many people, myself included, my daughter recognizes that people have a right to live their lives. She does not tell people they cannot go to the supermarket, restaurants, have social events or walk around. She does not police people’s behavior or yell at people who are not wearing masks in public places. She wants to return to in-person classes at school, because there is no way for her have virtual studio or labs.
Never the less, she knows a coworker is going to destinations in Florida that are nationally known have high rates of coronavirus infection, she does consider that to be a little bit different than a quick run to the market. In her mind, a decision like going to Florida for several days and coming right back to work requires a little more thought and prudence from both the coworker and the business.
Of course, businesses that are part of national chains follow corporate policies that are set by others. My daughter understands this. This company’s policy was to support employees if they become sick – not before. Managers sometimes have some leeway or flexibility, but when it comes to healthcare and personal privacy, there is only so much people can do.
My daughter asked for the restaurant to wait. She asked her co-worker to wait. The restaurant declined.
Hence, since the manager would not ask the employee to wait and there was no policy to require the employee to quarantine or require they get tested since they were not reporting symptoms, my daughter was offered a “leave of absence” to wait to see how the situation developed. She had enough money saved to cover rent, utilities and food, and decided that was the best option for her.
Instead of working, my daughter will patiently wait to see if her co-worker gets sick or gets a negative test result.
I am proud of her for the way she approached this situation. And I’m happy that she was offered a choice by her manager to wait it out.
This story, however, brings me to ask some questions:
Should companies ask their employees to report out-of-state travel to places with high infection rates?
What about visits to places (like hospitals) where there are high infection rates?
Should states get tougher about people to travel to states like Florida, Arizona, New York or California where there are high COVID-19 infection rates?
Some states have implemented non-binding travel restrictions, while others have imposed requirements. Starting August 1st, Massachusetts will require anyone who is a state resident and travels to a non-exempt state (or is coming into the state from another state that is not exempt) to complete a form and quarantine for 14 days unless they can provide a negative test result within 72 hours. How that will be tracked or enforced is a topic for discussion. But the fine for non-compliance is pretty steep: $500 a day.
Companies have largely banned in-person meetings and attending in-person events for the rest of the year.
For businesses that serve the public, like restaurants and supermarkets, not all are required to publicize if they have employees test positive for COVID-19. And none (that I am aware of) require people who travel out of state to report that travel and undergo testing before they return to work.
Every business needs to decide what makes the most sense for their day to day operations, but perhaps for certain types of businesses it is worth considering a policy that if employees leave the state to travel to other states with high infection rates – that they quarantine for a period before returning to work.
If a person travels and becomes infected with the virus during their trip – they likely won’t know for many days. What if this person is sick and spreads the virus to co-workers? A restaurant or supermarket could then lose employees to illness and lose the ability to operate well due to inadequate staffing. This impacts overall business operations from productivity to customer service to quality control.
While some people say the death rate from COVID-19 is low, the recovery time can still be long. We also have seen reports that the virus causes significant harm to the lung and heart in certain people. A person may recover in 3, 4 or 6 weeks, but keep in mind – they will be out of work and may not get paid their full salary until they test negative and return to work. The word “recovery” also may be somewhat relative.
I am a freedom-loving person. But freedom requires responsibility. Businesses should look at their COVID-19 policies and consider how personal travel can impact their operations as well as their workforce.
These are challenging times. As we continue to learn and find all the ways we can thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic, we ALL need to be smart and realize that some minor inconveniences are necessary to protect the health and welfare of the people around us.
Let’s look at situations much like my daughter did. Let us weigh the facts and not act out of fear, but purpose. A little pragmatic and common-sense decision-making today, can go a long way to making a brighter tomorrow.
Last night, I met up with a former colleague from my days at VitalSpring Technologies.
It was great to hang out and catch-up, and I’m looking forward to doing it again. Good friends are important.
As we’ve talked over the last few days, and reminisced last night, I learned that our former CEO, Sreedhar Potarazu (MD), has plead guilty to $30 million in shareholder fraud, and $7.5 million in employment tax fraud.
Dr. Potarazu is an incredibly talented surgeon. He had a great idea to build a software system that gave companies more insight into where their health insurance dollars were going, and how to create targeted wellness programs for employees to improve overall care.
The office environment was intense, and turn-over was high. There were days when several people would quit. And we all knew – because whenever a person quit, HR sent out a new code via e-mail to access the secure office areas. Some days we’d get 2, 3 or 5 emails from HR with a new code.
Everyone was passionate about the work we were doing.
We were excited about saving companies like McDonalds millions of dollars on their health insurance, and helping other companies create wellness programs for their employees.
And there was the relationship with SAP, and the prospect of being acquired down the road.
But Sreedhar never wanted to let people do their jobs. He insisted on controlling everything.
One day, without any warning, he sat down with me and my marketing team. In a soft voice, he said, “Today, I will accept your letters of resignation.”
I remember feeling my heart stop. The words “stunned” or “shocked” cannot begin to describe how I felt.
I remember sitting there and wondering… Why?
Then Sreedhar looked around at the room, and gave us a choice. We could resign, or we could market his company the way he told us to. There was profanity mixed in as well.
To say working at VitalSpring was a roller-coaster of emotions would be the understatement of a century. Because there were days when I had many meetings with Sreedhar in which he was polite, intelligent, and highly complimentary.
But there was another side to his personality. One that let his greed and arrogance drive his actions.
As principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo noted, “Sreedhar Potarazu created a complex web of lies to deceive VitalSpring shareholders, using false documents, fictitious websites, and fake potential buyers to induce investments and conceal the precarious financial status of the company, including millions of dollars of employment tax that he diverted from the U.S. Treasury.”
He called Sreedhar Potarazu’s conduct, “criminal.”
It’s sad to think about what could have been.
But it is a lesson that ideas are never enough.
Integrity and ethics are essential.
As is the need to trust your people to do their job.
In many ways, hiring the right people and trusting your team can save us from ourselves.