A Tallahassee, Fla., worker says she was fired from her job after she asked to work from home amid coronavirus concerns.
Katherine Webster, 25, has an autoimmune illness called interstitial cystitis, and her 9-year-old son has diabetes and asthma.
As health authorities advise social distancing and local schools close through March, the local mom was afraid of potentially getting the virus from the office and bringing it home to her already-ill son.
She’s a project engineer for Tower Construction Management, which is contracted by Robert Finvarb Companies to build the interior of the AC Hotel by Marriott being constructed as part of the Cascades Project, a $158 million mixed-use development in downtown Tallahassee.
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Webster’s duties on the hotel project included reading blueprints, overseeing subcontractors, corresponding design flaws and processing construction submittals.
She says her bosses fly in and out of Tallahassee from Miami several times a week. South Florida accounts for most of the state’s coronavirus cases.
When three cases were confirmed in Leon County on March 18, Webster says she sent an email to Tower Construction, asking to work from home or have unpaid leave.
Tower Construction owner Jake Torres replied, asked her to return her laptop, offered a Publix gift card and said he would reach out to her for future job opportunities “you may be able to perform remotely and without supervision,” according to screenshots of the correspondence provided by Webster.
She wrote back, “I have not made the decision to stop working with TCM … My entire position is based around being available via computer and phone which I have expressed multiple times (I have) no issue with.”
A staffing company manager wrote to Webster and said her position was temporary, that “the assignment is over,” the email read. Her position was scheduled to last through December.
“Since you can only work from home, I will see what we can do about finding an assignment that doesn’t require being physically at an office,” the manager said, according to screenshots of the emails.
The Democrat called Torres for comment. “I don’t have any comments,” he said before abruptly hanging up. Calls to Robert Finvarb Companies were not returned as of Tuesday afternoon.
Webster first expressed her concerns to the company about a week before she was eventually terminated, when the district announced schools would close for another week after spring break. Webster says her supervisors suggested she bring her two children with her to work; she also has a 5-year-old son.
“I just thought that was completely counterproductive to why schools shut down,” she said, adding that might have exposed her kids “to whatever illness my traveling bosses may contract.”
As fear hangs heavy over communities and the virus spreads across Florida, Webster worries about financial strain.
“If this entire situation drags out longer and the kids don’t go back to school, or I can’t find a job, then I’m not really sure what’s going to happen,” she said. “That’s been a huge stressor for me the last few days.”