Some Tesla employees have recently shown up to work despite having COVID-19 symptoms or being exposed to people who had tested positive for the virus. This is according to a leaked February 9 email obtained by Insider (by way of Entrepreneur), in which the Tesla’s vice president of people, Valerie Workman, implored colleagues to please stop doing that.
“Recently, we have had a number of people come on-site, even though they were showing COVID-19 symptoms or were knowingly exposed to a COVID-19-positive person,” Valerie Workman, Tesla’s vice president of people, wrote.
“When you come into work despite having a COVID-19 exposure or COVID-19 symptoms, you are putting everyone’s lives at risk,” Workman said later in the email.
Insider, a financial new site, notes that it is not known how many employees have arrived at Tesla’s facilities while sick or potentially infected, which facilities these individuals were present at or what their positions are. Workman reportedly encouraged employees in the email to continue working from home if their job allows them to, or if they don’t have “critical business” that requires them to show up in person.
Last summer, executives at many automakers seemed to warm up to the idea of remote work, at least for employees without factory positions. Like other manufacturers, Tesla has had to temporarily shut down operations throughout the pandemic. But it also defied local orders to keep its primary Fremont assembly plant closed last June, resulting in “several cases” among employees, according to the Washington Post.
Employees showing up to work sick is hardly a new phenomenon, though the past year has obviously proven a sobering reminder of the dangers. At some companies, choosing not to work through illness could also mean not getting paid or risking punishment. You might worry it’ll look like you’re not pulling your weight. It’s remarkably easy to convince yourself to work when it’s actually in your best interest not to.
And on top of all of that, it really doesn’t help when your boss minimizes the severity of a disease that’s killed nearly 2.5 million people around the world and just shy of half a million people in the U.S. alone.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk isn’t singing quite the same tune about COVID-19 these days as he was before November. That just so happened to be about the time when Musk seemingly contracted COVID-19 himself, all the while casting doubt over the results of his own tests and passively downplaying the virus’ severity.
“My symptoms are that of a minor cold,” he tweeted at the time, “which is no surprise, since a coronavirus is a type of cold.”
Before that, he said the virus was “dumb,” that kids were “essentially immune” and that up to 80 percent of diagnoses were false positives. Oh, and he sent a company-wide email writing that it was his “frank opinion” that “the harm from the coronavirus panic far exceeds that of the virus itself,” several paragraphs after also writing this:
First, I’d like to be super clear that if you feel the slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable, please don’t feel obligated to come to work. I will personally be at work, but that is just me. Totally OK if you want to stay home for any reason.
Talk about mixed messages. In the email leaked today, Workman reportedly wrote that employees forced to take time off as a consequence of COVID-19 will still receive pay without having to use a sick day. But when the stance from the big boss is that COVID-19 is overblown and that that vaccines are unnecessary when herd immunity could be achieved naturally, well, it becomes easier to convince yourself to just head to the office anyway.