Delta Air Lines has sent instructions to over 25,000 flight attendants saying that in the event they are diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, they should “refrain from notifying” other employees at the company or publicly disclosing their condition online, the Huffington Post reported on Friday.
The airline has instead instructed flight attendants to “follow an established process” via which it will identify at-risk employees who may be at risk after contact with the infected coworker. That process involves calling a hotline and informing management of planned sick leave. In addition to not posting anything about the diagnosis on social media, attendants were instructed not to post about it on the company’s internal Skyhub network—and at least some of those in contact with sickened colleagues were advised they could keep working.
Last week, a video that appeared on YouTube showed a Delta pilots’ union rep informing unit members that one of the airline’s chief pilots had told captains, “It’s not your job to go telling people that you were infected.” Dozens of the company’s pilots have been confirmed diagnosed with the virus and many employees suspected Delta was trying to prevent information about pilots who tested positive from getting to flight crews, HuffPo reported.
“Please refrain from notifying other crew members on your own,” the email to flight attendants on Thursday afternoon read, according to HuffPo. “Once you have completed the reporting procedures listed above, leaders will follow the established process to notify any impacted flight attendants... Please ensure you complete these actions as soon as symptoms occur.”
One flight attendant told the site she had received a phone call from the firm’s human resources department after posting about a colleague who was so sick they were put on a ventilator. Another provided HuffPo a voicemail from HR saying that they had recently come into contact with a sick employee, but that Delta had “evaluated your level of exposure, and because of this, you may continue to fly while self-monitoring for symptoms for 14 days.”
The entire aviation industry is shedding money fast as covid-19 has tanked travel rates, with some airlines reporting the percentage of seats filled on flights has dipped to single digits (it is normally closer to 80 percent). However, the complicated nature of air routes, efforts to maintain social distancing of passengers, and minimum service requirements in the federal stimulus bill to obtain part of $50 billion in aid have all contributed to many flights going out on schedule. Last week, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said that around 35,000 staffers had volunteered to take unpaid leave as part of an effort to control costs—over a third of its workforce—and the company was still seeking more. The biggest unions for flight attendants and flight controllers have called for an end to all “leisure travel.”
According to HuffPo, Delta explained to employees on SkyHub that the intent of the policy was to “ensure we get in touch with anyone potentially exposed to provide support,” while a spokesperson told the site their intent was not to cause confusion and there are no plans to penalize anyone. Per the Society for Human Resource Management, federal labor laws protect workers who speak up about or refuse to come to work because of unsafe conditions.
“Employees have freedom of speech about their health,” one flight attendant told HuffPo. “No employer can take that away. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves, our coworkers and everyone we come in contact with.”