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The Moneyist

April 13, 2020, 10:52 a.m. EDT

‘Coronavirus doesn’t care who you’ll vote for in November.’ My boss says the virus is a conspiracy and told me to work — even though I was just tested

‘I’m falling through the cracks. I worry that if I do get COVID-19 and die, my husband and children will have no recourse against this employer’

By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

The Moneyist answers dilemmas in an age of coronavirus.

Dear Moneyist,

I‘ve been sick since March 1, diagnosed by urgent care with an acute upper respiratory infection. My primary physician put me on prednisone, as I’m anemic with debilitating asthma and celiac disease. I’m 66 years old. I’ve been hospitalized twice in two years with inflammation and pneumonia.

For the last three weeks, I’ve asked the optometrist I work for to supply masks and gloves so I can protect myself and others while I’m at work. He thinks this whole thing is a farce, and a way to shut down the economy so that President Trump will lose the election in November.

I finally found some masks and brought them to work to protect myself and others. At first, my boss refused to let me wear them, stating that I’d scare away the patients. Last week, when the patients started to complain and back away from the staff, he let me wear a mask at the front desk.

More from Quentin Fottrell: 5 ways to navigate a supermarket in New York City, the epicenter of coronavirus — without losing your mind

I continue to cough, and last week I had a video visit with my primary physician. He became concerned, given my history of hospitalizations, and ordered me to be tested for COVID-19. I was tested on Thursday and am waiting for results. I was told to self-isolate for 14 days.

My manager, however, said that I didn’t have COVID-19 and has kept me on the normal work schedule. I had to work the day after I took the test and I worked today, even though I texted my boss, left him a voicemail message, and spoke in person in an effort to persuade him to allow me to stay home.

I have been reduced to half my hours due to low patient flow, so that’s better, at least. We’re open five hours a day, but we’ve still had patients who are coughing as they come in for contact-lens exams. I’m petrified. What if my results come back positive? I will have put so many people in harm’s way.

If I’m negative, I’m putting myself at risk, given my current condition. I can’t stay home and collect unemployment; it would be considered job abandonment. I’m falling through the cracks. I worry that if I do get it and die, my husband and children will have no recourse against this employer.

Desperate for Help in Florida

Dear Desperate,

You are caught between a monster boss and a deadly virus.

Seven days ago, Florida became the 34th state to introduce a stay-at-home order for businesses. Unlike in New York, however, the list of “essential businesses” that may stay open is long, and does apply to most medical services, including hospitals (obviously), physicians, rehabilitation facilities, physical therapists, psychiatrists, therapists and, of course, pharmacists. This matters because there is no federal stay-at-home order, so it’s left up to each state to define what essential services comprise, and to decide whether to issue a stay-at-home order at all.

Politicizing a pandemic is playing with fire. Coronavirus doesn’t care who you will vote for in November.

Your boss sounds like a real gem. He is allowing his conspiracy theories to set the tone for his business, his employees and his customers. He is putting all three of these at risk with his reckless actions. Let me be very clear about this: I have NO political views on this and, among my closest friends in New York City, I have buddies who are on the polar-opposite ends of the political spectrum. But politicizing a pandemic is playing with fire. Coronavirus doesn’t care who you will vote for in November.

If ever there were a case of #familyfirst, this is it. You should not have to sacrifice your health — or your life — by sublimating yourself and fitting into your boss’s version of reality. The coronavirus pandemic is real, and it’s deadly. This is not the time for your boss to play politics with other people’s lives. Whether you test positive or not, you should not be working in a consumer-facing job right now.

Dispatches from a pandemic : ‘Coronavirus has ruined everything.’ My husband refuses to work. Is it too much to ask him to find a job when millions of people are now out of work? I’ve suggested jobs with car services and food-delivery services, but to no avail

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act outlines valid reasons for paid time off, “including situations when the employee has been advised by a health-care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19 and when the employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis,” says Howard Wexler, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw in New York.

You clearly fall under this remit. It’s time to fight back. Seek free legal aid and report your boss to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation for putting others at risk. Millions of people in the U.S. are watching their businesses crumble and/or have lost their jobs because of this pandemic. They are painfully aware that the ultimate goal is bigger than all of us.

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects qualified employees with disabilities from discrimination. “A disability may be a chronic physical condition, such as breathing,” Wexler says. “Employees may be entitled to an accommodation such as leave or be allowed to work remotely for a limited period.”

The Moneyist: ‘All they care about is making money.’ Can my supermarket manager force me to remove my face mask at work?

You are not the only one who is facing these issues. Take heart in that. I’ve received a dozen letters that are similar to yours over the last few days. This week, the family of a Walmart (NYS:WMT)  worker who died of coronavirus is suing the retailer, alleging it failed to provide workers with protective clothing and failed to be transparent with workers about the risks they faced.

Wando Evans, a 51-year-old man who was a Walmart associate for 15 years, died on March 25 as a result of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. His estate alleges that Walmart management did not warn Evans and others “that various individuals were experiencing symptoms at the store and may have been infected by COVID-19,” according to the lawsuit.

In response to the suit, Walmart said it took action to reinforce cleaning and sanitizing procedures, which it said included a deep-cleaning of key areas. Wherever the scales of justice end up in this case, there will be no winners. You need to act now and not resign yourself to abiding by your boss’s wishes. He’s your manager. He’s not God. But he is acting like it by playing with people’s lives.

<STRONG>You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com</STRONG>

Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter and read more of his columns here

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