Call-centre workers sent home without pay
Fifty call-centre employees were sent home for two weeks without pay, after they reported that they were experiencing flu-like symptoms. The workers, who are employed to VXI Global Solutions, were told to quarantine at home for 14 days in order to be certain that they did not have COVID-19. They, however, may return to work before the period if they take a COVID test that comes back negative.
Christopher Boucher, country manager for VXI Global Solutions, told THE STAR that on August 17, in response to a post on a gossip site, a survey was done among employees to see if anyone was displaying flu-like symptoms.
"We got 50 responses saying yes. We went ahead and told the employees they would be required to do a 14-day quarantine, and would only return to work before the time has elapsed if they proactively did a COVID-19 test and returned negative. This period would have been without pay, unless they had any vacation time, days in lieu (of vacation) or sick time that would cover the days they would be off," he said.
He said one employee had tested positive, and the building was deep-cleaned and sanitised between August 26 and September 2, following orders from the health ministry.
The building was reopened on September 3 after being passed by the health ministry. An outbreak in a call centre was responsible for the country's first spike in COVID-19 cases. The health ministry has classified 236 cases of COVD-19 as being linked to the Alorica workplace cluster in Portmore. Since then, the authorities have implemented a set of protocols aimed at reducing the possibility of another outbreak in the sector.
Approximately 40 per cent of call-centre workers islandwide now work from home. Boucher said that work-from-home orders are implemented based on the nature of their operations. He also said that of the 800 workers at the company, 50 per cent of them are working from home.
"A BPO is a third-party contractor company, so it would all depend on the individual client we're dealing with, whether or not they would allow us to work from home. Some of the reasons why they wouldn't is surrounding personal card information and personal identity, because Jamaica doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to scamming, and some of our major clients are afraid of allowing employees to take customers credit card info or social security number," he said.
When THE STAR asked if he was concerned about a repeat of the Alorica situation, Boucher was confident in the measures put in place to fight the spread of COVID-19.
"We have implemented social distancing, mandatory sanitisation, and further separated our cubicles, making them taller than they were before. We also give free masks and ensure they are wearing them," he said.
As it relates to the 50 employees, Boucher said some went to private doctors and were diagnosed with other ailments. He said 35 were tested by the health ministry.
"These employees cannot come back to work, although the majority have tested negative; and they have been home for three weeks because we have closed that specific account until we have all confidence there is no mass outbreak within our company," Boucher said.
Meanwhile, Danny Roberts, head of the Hugh Shearer Labour Studies Institute, said it is unforunate that the workers are deprived of a salary while they are in quarantine.
"The employees should be paid. The employer must pay for the test and allow them to stay for the 14 days at home. They need to set up a hotline for people to report this kind of insensitive behaviour that some employers are carrying out. A lot of companies need to start focusing on some work-from-home policies, with the appropriate measures and training that will be put in place to ensure that you continue to get output. These are the directions we must go in a post-COVID era," he said.
However, Boucher said that the company cannot carry the cost of paying salaries for employees who are at home not working.
"Employees are paid by the hour worked, just as the company is paid. If employees do not work, the only way they will be paid is by using vacation or sick time, or days earned in lieu ... . So, no, they weren't paid for the period they were sent home ... . We only pay for hours worked. This is how the company is paid. If we do not work, there is no money."