The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced many public spaces to temporarily close, but “essential” businesses can remain open even in US states that have issued closure orders. A leaked AT&T memo tells employees that it believes its retail locations are essential, but the people working on those stores have expressed fear and outrage on the company’s internal message board.
As the pandemic has unfolded, AT&T closed 40 percent of its locations, but many employees have been assigned shifts at the remaining 60 percent of stores that remain open. AT&T distributed a memo that claims it is providing “essential services,” and it can, therefore, remain open. AT&T even instructed employees to show the memo to any public health or law enforcement officials who attempt to enforce the shutdown.
AT&T points to services like device replacement and troubleshooting as essential services, but many of its retail employees remain unconvinced. Replacement phones can be shipped, and online support can provide help with device malfunctions and connectivity issues. Meanwhile, AT&T has chosen to concentrate customers in a smaller number of stores.
AT&T has posted signs on the doors asking people to only enter if they are not feeling ill and need vital services. However, these signs are not sufficiently large or clear about the restrictions. Employees say they’ve been forced to interact with people who show troubling symptoms, and AT&T has been deaf to their concerns.
A number of leaked message board posts from retail workers reveal the frightening reality of working in customer service right now. One poster says “1 of the 16 customers today began coughing in the store and her nose started to bleed.” Another writes, “I just had a customer come in to do a SIM card change she was coughing and keeping her distance, when I asked for her payment she told me to stay away a little and disinfect when I’m done with her as she is currently experiencing body aches and a cough and was on her way to the hospital to get checked.”
It’s not even clear if employees are allowed to take unpaid leave for fear of infection. “Are we able to stay home without getting pointed if we choose to? Same are saying [sic] some are saying no. Is this in writing anywhere?… Can we take unpaid time off or not? Asking for 225,000 friends, give or take,” wrote an AT&T employee.
AT&T has not released a statement on its decision to keep stores open. It really should have expected these documents to leak, though.
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