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Should your company tell you when coronavirus hits the workforce?

A case involving an Amazon contractor's sick spouse raises questions that many companies are asking right now

EVERETT, Wash. — Tessa Reid says word came Sunday that the spouse of one the drivers who delivers merchandise from Amazon’s warehouse in Everett tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).

She says her manager “…wanted us not to reveal the information to Amazon or any other drivers,” Reid recalled as she spoke through a medical mask, and awaited the results of her own coronavirus test.

“I do feel at high risk to have this virus,” the 25-year-old said.

Reid is a dispatcher for BBW Express, a contractor that provides 30 vans and about 50 drivers to deliver Amazon products to homes and businesses in Snohomish and King counties.

She said she and some of the half dozen other dispatchers that work for BBW in Everett were disturbed that only some BBW employees were told of the virus.  She says none of the five drivers were informed.

“I think they didn’t want people to be fearful and not show up to work the next day,” Reid said.

Amazon and its partners are providing a vital service as many people confine themselves to their homes to avoid the spreading virus.

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The situation at the Everett warehouse is an example of what many businesses are likely facing as they try to meet operational demands while, at the same time, trying to keep their employees safe and informed.

Should BBW Express have told all of its employees about the driver whose spouse tested positive?

The Michigan-based company referred all questions to Amazon.

In a written statement, Amazon’s Lisa Levandowski said: “The health and safety of our employees and contractors continues to be our top priority as we face the challenges associated with COVID-19. We took this matter seriously and have been in contact with our Delivery Service Partner to ensure all necessary precautions were followed and that their employees are supported.”

Amazon says it appears BBW Express followed all the proper protocols.

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Officials say that the driver did not show symptoms of illness and BBW Express has paid him while he self-quarantines for two weeks.

“Obviously, this pandemic is seemingly in a class unto itself,” said Jeffrey Smith, PhD, professor of business ethics at Seattle University. “What is best for a business leader to think about is what is the best information they have from public health officials."

To that end, public health officials have asked people who may be infected not to seek a coronavirus test through their doctor unless they are symptomatic.

Since the delivery driver has not tested positive, BBW Express may not have any obligation to tell other employees.

But Smith says companies also want to make certain their employees know management is trustworthy.

“In this environment when trust and confidence need to be preserved and companies need to show that they are actually thinking about their employees’ interests, they need to be as upfront as they can,” he said.

Smith says employers should not abandon their “core values” during this time of crisis, but should continue to be guided by them. 

“My general piece of advice is, 'Don’t lose sight of your values,'" toward employee welfare and customer service, even if it costs a company money in the short-term, Smith said.

Reid believes that BBW Express did have an obligation to tell all its employees that a fellow worker was in quarantine.

“I feel like this is not being taken care of in a very caring way.  Or even with a sense of urgency,” she said.

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