- CVS just raised its profit forecast this month, but some employees say that the chain’s outward optimism hides major health violations.
- Business Insider spoke with three CVS employees in Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas who said that the pharmacy chain ignored reports of potential COVID-19 exposure at stores and required sick or quarantined employees to come to work.
- A CVS spokesperson told Business Insider that the incidents in question are “not in keeping with our policies.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
CVS raised its full-year profits forecast in August after announcing it was in talks with the US government to administer COVID-19 vaccines. But some employees tell Business Insider that the pharmacy chain has also put worker and customer safety at risk during the coronavirus pandemic.
Business Insider spoke with three CVS employees in multiple states who said that the company actively instructed staff to come to work after potential exposure to the coronavirus, actions that go against company policies and CDC guidelines. All of the CVS employees were granted anonymity after Business Insider verified their employment status, due to fear of retaliation.
While debate continues over testing asymptomatic people for COVID-19, experts agree anyone who tested positive for the disease can infect others. Still, a Tennessee CVS technician told Business Insider that at the end of July, employees in her district were told to report for work even if they tested positive for COVID-19, as long as they were asymptomatic.
“Corporate’s reasoning was that since we are wearing masks, no customers would be exposed,” the Tennessee technician said.
Another CVS pharmacy technician in Missouri said that after her significant other tested positive for COVID-19 in July, she was told to violate a government-mandated quarantine to keep working.
“I was instructed by our local health department to start my 14-day quarantine. However, my district manager and the corporate COVID hotline told me I still had to work,” the Missouri technician said, adding that she was told she did not qualify for paid leave without first showing COVID-19 symptoms.
“The hotline [operator] specifically told me to ignore the health department, and that if I didn’t have symptoms I don’t have to listen to the isolation order,” the technician said.
CVS spokesperson Michael DeAngelis told Business Insider that the incidents described in this article are “not in keeping with our policies and practices concerning employees who test positive or are presumptive positive for COVID-19, or who are exposed to someone who has COVID-19.”
“We have numerous policies and protocols in place to help ensure our stores are safe for both employees and customers,” DeAngelis added.
According to CVS Health’s website, the company’s policy is to pay for up to 14 days of paid leave to employees who test positive for COVID-19 or are required to quarantine for exposure. CVS’ COVID-19 hotline encourages employees to self-report a coronavirus diagnosis or request time off if ordered to quarantine.
This policy is in keeping with the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires most employers to pay workers two weeks of paid leave if ordered to quarantine by the government or a healthcare provider.
James Biscone, a personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney at Johnson & Biscone, told Business Insider that because coronavirus response information has changed often since the pandemic began, the precise legal responsibilities of employers are often murky and vary state by state.
While taking unpaid leave to comply with the state-mandated quarantine order, the Missouri technician’s COVID-19 test results ultimately came back negative. However, two of her partner’s coworkers tested positive for the coronavirus and were asymptomatic.
Another CVS employee, a customer service associate based in Arkansas, told Business Insider the company had repeatedly ignored possible exposure incidents in-store, even after staff made numerous calls to the COVID-19 hotline.
A woman who told staff she’d tested positive for COVID-19 picked up her medications in May through the drive-thru, then later entered the store to talk with several staff members about her medications. When staff reported the incident to HR and their district lead, they were simply told to clean what she had touched.
Similar incidents continued to occur at the Arkansas customer service associate’s CVS location, but each time they were reported, staff either did not receive a follow-up or were told nothing could be done.
And after a coworker had tested positive for the virus and was placed on leave, the Arkansas associate said that the company did nothing – no follow-up, cleaning, or contact tracing – to ensure other workers were not infected.
“When we are informed that an employee has tested positive or is presumptive positive for COVID-19, we implement our infectious disease protocols that follow CDC guidelines. This includes: placing the employee on a 14-day paid leave so that they can self-isolate, whether or not they are symptomatic; appropriate cleaning of the worksite; and performing contact tracing,” DeAngelis told Business Insider.
Biscone believes employers should ultimately err on the side of caution when it comes to worker and public safety.
“I can think of few things more reckless than requiring an employee who shows symptoms of COVID-19 or who has tested positive to come into a work environment where they will be exposed to coworkers and patrons,” he said. “If employers continue to do this, the virus is going to be around a very long time.”
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