can my job make me travel during the pandemic? — Ask a Manager

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Remember the letter-writer concerned that her company would make her travel during the pandemic? Here’s the update.

I ended up having to respond to my company before Alison posted my question. I did end up including a little lie, thinking there would be less push back: I said that due to family circumstances I didn’t feel comfortable traveling until I was vaccinated. In a sense, it’s true! Me and my SO (my immediate family) believe in reducing the spread of COVID, including non-essential travel, not just to protect ourselves but others as well. The response I got back was essentially “we get it and you should do what you feel is safe.” I don’t feel great about lying as it’s sort of an easy way out and I should just be able say “no – this puts me and others at risk”.

So, it ended up working out for me. However I don’t appreciate that my company put the onus on me to put up this boundary against my superiors, and that they essentially have no protocol for pandemic travel. I definitely feel like declining this “opportunity” has reduced my standing in the company, but to me it’s worth it. Four other people will be making this trip, two at a time (there are three weeks required to be on the job site, and the supervisor plus one rotating person will go out there). I was the only one who declined to go. I think there’s immense pressure to go along with what higher-ups want. I do feel bad that someone else from my work will likely just go in my place and my personal push-back did not solve the basic issue of traveling during the pandemic, though I am relieved I won’t be going.

A little more context:

– A lot of people questioned if the travel is necessary. It is required contractually for the project, and must be conducted in person, this type of inspection definitely can’t be done remotely – but I don’t think it’s essential for me and my role on this project. It would be me and my supervisor who wants someone there to follow them around and take notes. Given that much of the country has had to make adjustments in workflow for the pandemic, and my work otherwise has been pretty much WFH since March, it’s surprising to me that zero accommodations have been made in this case… “the show must go on”. It would be largely interior, with multiple trades/meetings and inspections. I have seen nothing to suggest that they’re making any efforts to make the site safe, beyond the obligatory “wear a mask when the boss is watching” which is hardly followed anyway.

– I am expected to drive locally for work to job sites within 1-2 hours, however I haven’t had to much during COVID purely out of coincidence and the phase my projects are in. Traveling locally, I am still able to drive in my own car, maintain distance, wear masks, come home to my own bed at night, and avoid high-risk locations. This project is one of the only out-of-state projects in my office.

– In general, my work has had a fairly decent response in general to the pandemic, though I notice that lately that people are much more relaxed about it, taking their mask off, not distancing, etc. A few people in the office got COVID, but since they were fairly mild cases I think it’s contributed to the assumption that COVID isn’t that big of a deal. They’re also big on “in person collaboration” as if it’s the holy grail of productivity.

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