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COVID Gag Rule

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Josh Eidelson on how corporations are intimidating employees to not reveal COVID infections.

In the past few months, U.S. businesses have been on a silencing spree. Hundreds of U.S. employers across a wide range of industries have told workers not to share information about Covid-19 cases or even raise concerns about the virus, or have retaliated against workers for doing those things, according to workplace complaints filed with the NLRB and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Workers at Amazon.com, Cargill, McDonald’s, and Target say they were told to keep Covid cases quiet. The same sort of gagging has been alleged in OSHA complaints against Smithfield Foods, Urban Outfitters, and General Electric. In an email viewed by Bloomberg Businessweek, Delta Air Lines told its 25,000 flight attendants to “please refrain from notifying other crew members on your own” about any Covid symptoms or diagnoses. At Recreational Equipment Inc., an employee texted colleagues to say he’d tested positive and that “I was told not to tell anybody” and “to not post or say anything on social media.”

Amazon, McDonald’s, and Target dispute the allegations. REI says it doesn’t prohibit employees from, or punish them for, raising concerns or discussing their own health. General Electric Co. says it hasn’t threatened employees for discussing Covid-related concerns, and Delta says it hasn’t punished staff for sharing diagnoses. Smithfield Foods Inc. says its policy “is the opposite of the allegations in the complaint.” Urban Outfitters Inc. says it encourages employees to report concerns and that OSHA has found no wrongdoing on its part. Cargill Inc. says it considers health information private.

One complaint says trailer manufacturer Great Dane LP set as its policy “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” According to another complaint, plastics company Jeans Extrusions Inc. told workers not to discuss infections, because “they cannot afford to quarantine us all.” According to another, beverage store LiqGo told employees anyone who revealed they had Covid-19 would be fired. Jeans Extrusions says the complaint was untrue. “We are very, very friendly, family-oriented,” says plant manager Vince Lewandowski, “not slave drivers at all.” Great Dane and LiqGo didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“Not slave drivers at all.” OK, what a defense.

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