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When It Feels Like Your Boss Values Your Health Less Than the Cost of a Laptop

Illustration for article titled When It Feels Like Your Boss Values Your Health Less Than the Cost of a Laptop
Illustration: Benjamin Currie (Gizmodo)
Sick DaysSick DaysWelcome to Sick Days, a collection of stories from readers on how the current covid-19 health crisis is changing the way they work and the futures they can expect in these uncertain times.

This is Sick Days, a series documenting how jobs are changing during the coronavirus pandemic, as told by workers themselves. This week, we hear from some entertainment professionals, a credit union worker, a nanny and part-time baker, and more. If you’d like to submit a story, use this Google form and provide as much detail as you’re able; read this post to learn more about the project.

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Gizmodo has verified the authors’ identities, and submissions have been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.


Shawn, lighting roadie, Philadelphia

Sorry for the shortened version, I come from a breed of people that don’t overly talk about their issues. Probably the reason there’s a massive amount of mental health and addiction issues in our line of work.

Yesterday, I filled out unemployment papers for the first time in my life. I haven’t always had work but I always knew that work was coming. It’s a strange feeling to have no idea when or if work will resume. Honestly, it scares the shit out of me.

Twice in the past I’ve tried to leave the tour world to hold a more stable job. Both times I found it to be the most soul-sucking miserable existence anyone could put on themselves. Aside from the personal misery, the money was terrible too. So now I find myself about to be forced into this place once again. I am highly educated, trained, and experienced in my line of work but those skills do not translate into anything that helps outside of the entertainment industry. So I will start looking for a job that will be entry-level. Most likely, I’m going to try to get a job stocking shelves after hours at a supermarket. It’s honest work, filling a need for our community.

My garage has never been so organized.

I have the garden started. It’s always been a side small hobby of mine that I’m really devoting myself to. For the first time in eight years of doing this I’ll actually be home to try and keep up with it. Something to devote my extra time to and might save a couple of bucks.

The city of Philadelphia is so backlogged on people signing up for unemployment that I still haven’t received my pin to log in. It’s been over two weeks and I can’t even sign in to see if I’ve filled out the paperwork correctly.

My carpets are all steamed and I’ve started the painting projects. I might not be a toilet paper hoarder but I am definitely a project supplies hoarder. There’s probably enough things in my garage to keep me in projects around the house for two more months.

I refuse to let myself get down. I’m staying positive and keeping busy. For somebody who spends nine months out of the year all over the world, this is an unfortunate blessing. My wife is awesome and my dogs love all of the extra attention. I miss everything about my job but maybe a little home time was also needed. By the time this has passed, my house might have LED lights in everything. My poor wife.

I’ve taken solace in the fact that I have no control over this situation. All I can do is get out there and possibly make lives better for people and hopefully pay my mortgage. It’s bittersweet that I have so much free time to catch up with my fellow roadies since we all know that no one else is working. Currently we’re all crossing our fingers that the letter representative Adam Schiff sent to Congress about addressing the financial impact that the corona epidemic is having on the entertainment industry goes somewhere. I don’t really think it will. Our government tends to favor banks and airlines instead of the working class. Especially when the working class they’ll be looking at is a bunch of misfits and outsiders. A roadie can dream though.

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Matt, ESL teacher, Slovakia

I’m an American expat living in Bratislava, Slovakia. I work as a freelance English as a second language teacher. I have been living and working here since 2007. (President Caputova was recently an internet darling because of her matching red dress and face mask.)

The first confirmed case of covid-19 was diagnosed at the end of February. In the first week of March schools were closed, and people who could were asked to work from home. On March 6 the prime minister gave the order to shelter in place. Everything was closed except grocery stores, pharmacies, and druggists. As of right now there is over 600 cases with two deaths. We haven’t been hit very hard but it’s difficult to tell, since they are only testing people who have recently been to countries with a large outbreak of covid-19.

My partner’s uncle has cancer and is going through chemotherapy. His kids live in the Czech Republic so they can’t cross the border to see him, but even if they could they still wouldn’t be able to see him because of him being at high risk.

And of course in typical Slovak fashion whenever a politician or bureaucrat can steal money, they do. The head of procurement, of the outgoing government, was supposed to purchase 500,000 tests but they only received 200,000 tests and his son managed to buy two apartments in the city center in cash. So it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the money went.

As an ESL teacher I work exclusively in companies. Once the shelter-in-place order was issued, I was basically unemployed. So now I’m out of work. I have a 5-month-old son and my partner is on maternity leave. We don’t speak about how dire our financial situation will become, but there’s definitely tension at times.

We have canceled our wedding that was planned for August since my friends and family from the States definitely won’t be able to make it. My son was just baptized in an empty church and with everyone wearing face masks.

I’m loving being home with my son, it’s amazing to watch him grow. It’s like every day he’s doing something new. I have a whole new respect for stay-at-home moms. We pass the time going for walks in the forest behind our building and of course lots of Netflix. My Cuba Libres are becoming more Cuba, less Libre.

Whenever you are out of the house you have to wear a mask. At large grocery stores they spray your hands with sanitizer and you have to wear gloves. From 9-12 is only allowed for senior citizens in the shops. As of this week they allowed small haberdashery shops and garden supply stores to be opened but they have to respect social distancing protocols. The reason for allowing these types of shops to open is so people can buy material to make masks, and outside of Bratislava many people depend on their own gardens for food.

The banks announced that you can pause mortgage payments, but once you start paying they will raise your monthly payment, so you still pay the loan back on schedule. Clearly they don’t give a shit about anyone.

Some time this week the government is supposed to start offering relief for freelancers and small business owners. I don’t know if I qualify for any of the relief but I hope so.

It’s very difficult to say when life will get back to normal, one day they say it will peak at the end of June, the next they say maybe by the end of the month we can get back to work.

I try to keep positive. We are all in the same boat and there’s people who have it much worse than us right now. I know it will be difficult to rebound financially, but at least we will be able to leave the house and try to make things happen rather than sit inside and think about it.

Alex, freelance cinematographer, New York

At this point basically the entire freelance film industry (and to my knowledge the greater entertainment industry) has shut down.

Nearly all of my colleagues that I personally speak with and ones I’ve come to know through online communities are not working at the moment and, like most people, we’re not sure when a sense of normalcy will return. I’m personally hoping that we can get back to work within two months but it’s obviously hard to say. The looming recession doesn’t give me much hope either—I think that once work starts back up it may be a slow crawl back to where we were just a couple weeks ago.

It’s unfortunate because many people in my immediate circle were just starting to gain traction in our respective roles and it seemed like we were all due to work on bigger and more exciting projects. It can be hard, as a freelancer especially in a creative field, to see progress over time, and it was nice that we all were moving forward after putting so much time into our respective crafts. Not only this but most of us don’t get paid if we’re not working. Being out of work for a month, or two months, or four months is a very frightening prospect. It’s upsetting now not knowing how long it will take to get things going again and not knowing how far back we may all fall financially and professionally.

Luckily unemployment benefits have been expanded to include freelancers and independent contractors, however, it’s been a nightmare to get through the system in NY to file or claim benefits. I know people who have spent hours a day for the last several weeks trying to get through their phone system. Personally, I’ve been having issues accessing their website so I can’t even begin to file an unemployment claim. Fortunately this isn’t a problem for me just yet, but I have a feeling the number of unemployed is only going to go up, and the burden on the phone and web won’t lighten up for a while. I’m wondering how long it will take me to get through the system and begin filing.

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Michael, credit union data operator, Midwest United States

The first two paragraphs were submitted on March 17, while the rest constitutes an update included on April 8

Surprisingly, my work life has not been impacted negatively by the pandemic. I’m still working my requisite 40 hours a week. However, my company has closed all customer-facing services. The tellers and public-facing employees have been re-purposed and are used in the call center for the higher phone traffic.

Much of the leadership in my company are in their 60s and 70s, and their concern is that of most Fox News viewers—which is to say that they think it’s no worse than the common flu. Even though I’m in IT, I don’t have a laptop to work from home. Nor do any of the other six people in my IT shop. During a department meeting about the virus, I brought up my concerns about what the plan was for if this gets worse and even the Fed shuts down. I was told that this would blow over in a couple of weeks and my concerns were not founded in reality. I’ll continue to show up for work, enjoying my near traffic-free commute, hoping to not get sick.


The company has moved 2/3 of the credit union branch staff to the corporate office to work as temporary call center operators. The company I work for was established in [state A] but its corporate office is located in [state B]. This matters because I live in [state A], where a shelter-in-place order is being somewhat followed. Unfortunately, I’m working [in state B] that has not taken any precautions or ordered much of anything to close. I spend much of my week around people openly living their lives out and about, before coming home and self-quarantining. My company did purchase 30-ish laptops to allow people to work from home, but those went to leadership and high-risk employees.

As part of a nine-person IT department, seven are at home right now working remotely for an indefinite period, while only two of us are tasked with coming into the office five days a week. Nothing we do requires us to physically be here. I’m beginning to wonder if my bosses value my health and safety to be somewhere under the cost of a new laptop.

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Lily, part-time nanny and baker, Washington, DC

I’m a part-time nanny for a family in the suburbs of DC. The girls’ father works for the federal government and has started teleworking today. His wife is a lawyer and is still going into the office everyday. It’s a little difficult to be here when there’s a parent at home as well. Mostly it’s because the kids tend to act up more and defer to the parents while they are trying to work.

I also have a home-based cake business to make some extra cash. Just about every order I had this week canceled. It sucks, honestly. I expect more will do so in the coming weeks, which will be tough since I rely on that extra cash flow to help me cover everything my nanny job doesn’t. I also have two other people that work for me helping with the cakes that I won’t be able to pay while all of this is going on.

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Donny, local government worker, Western United States

Paragraphs before the break were submitted on March 17, while the rest constitutes an update added on April 8

Fear and uncertainty as we wait for our managers to answer all the events unfolding. Nobody knows what’s going on. We are still short-handed from our historic layoffs during the Great Recession, and people are calling in sick all over the place. Haven’t seen a taxpayer in the building for two days now. Kids got a month off school and I’m not sure exactly how we are gonna make it all work.

Trump can keep the fucking money. How about some damned leadership. This endless dithering is just making things worse.

Traffic is nice though.


As you can see, I’m local government, and since my post we’ve instituted a two-day-per-week WFH. We are hoping and praying it stays that way after—but not holding our collective breaths.

Nothing else has changed. Property taxes are essential work after all, but nobody is expecting the roll to close on time this year. The county admin center is a ghost town and closed to the public—they aren’t allowed to use the lobby, elevator, or stairwells without staff escort.

The downtown food scene has devolved into a cannibalistic free-for-all with a few of our old-school foodie treasures closing down.

Everyone is scared. The union is fighting with the county over safety—as the poorest workers here are the custodial staff and the at-home care providers. [As far as I know], not a single employee has been furloughed as nonessential staff—but we were 30 percent understaffed to begin with as we hadn’t recovered from the Great Recession yet.

The overall mood is definitely negative, and we have little faith in our leadership to do the right thing. Our county health commissioner made sure we were second-to-last to order shelter in place because he thinks cube walls (we are heavily white-collar in this county) are more than enough to stop Corona. Yet every day the cases keep trickling in.

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As always, if you have a story you’d like to submit to Sick Days, please use this Google form or send me an email. Stay healthy and safe.

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Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// bgmwrites@gmail.com Keybase: keybase.io/bryangm Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/

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DISCUSSION

I can relate to a lot of this. I’m a state worker in IT which operates as a skeleton crew. This COVID-19 mess has only added more work for us and we were expected to come in to work unless we felt sick. Only after a couple of weeks have they allowed workers to WFH. I’ve had a laptop since I started and have worked from home many times. It should’ve been the default scenario for those that could already WFH. Higher ups were reluctant to approve it. There’s hardly anyone in our building and I’m just in my office with the door closed. Lights are off in the main area and the doors are locked. I’m enjoying the peace and quiet, but I’d much rather be out of this mess.