Employees at a TD Bank call centre in London, Ont. say they’re scared to go to work after they were told a colleague in the densely-packed office was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this month.
TD Bank confirmed an employee at the call centre at 745 York Street tested positive for COVID-19 and that staff at the office were told on April 3. However, several employees who worked at the call centre said they were never informed by management, when asked about it outside the office by CBC News on Thursday.
“We understand any worry they may be feeling,” Carla Hindman, TD Bank’s manager of communications and public affairs wrote to CBC News in an email. “We can confirm that a colleague at our 745 York Street office informed us that they tested positive for COVID-19, after they had been away from work for 12 days.”
CBC News spoke to a number of employees who work at the busy call centre who said, while TD Bank put some physical distancing measures in place, it only happened after CBC News published a report in March on the bank’s failure to implement them in the first place.
‘I’m scared. I’m actually afraid to go to work’
“They responded after they were shown in a bad light in the media,” said one employee whose name is being withheld by CBC News to protect them from reprisals from management.
“A lot of people are upset with the company,” the person said. “I’m scared. I’m actually afraid to go to work.”
Before TD changed the conditions inside the busy call centre, hundreds of people were working less than a metre apart, while sharing kitchens, desks, washrooms and, in some cases, headsets.
To reduce the headcount in the building and provide the two-metre space between workers recommended by health authorities, the company said 420 employees at the call centre are now working from home.
Despite those efforts, the east and west parking lots at the call centre appeared nearly full and held at least 200 cars on Thursday. CBC News spoke to a number of employees who say they’re anxious over the number of people in one place.
“When you talk about social distancing, they’re saying don’t be gathering in groups of five or more but everyday you’re going into a building with over 400 people and you don’t know where they’ve been in their daily life because you don’t know how seriously they’ve been taking it,” said one employee. “It causes concern for me because I am taking it seriously.”
The employees said while closing off every other desk creates adequate space to the left and right, it still doesn’t solve the problem created by the tightly packed rows of cubicles that sit only a metre apart.
“If someone is sitting three feet behind you, it really doesn’t make sense,” said an employee. “They’re not giving us enough space for social distancing.”
What’s more is employees must still share workstations with people who are on another shift and while staff are expected to clean them between shifts, there’s no way of knowing how thoroughly the job was done.
“Most of the terminals people use are communal. You share a computer, you share a phone and you share a mouse,” said one of the employees.
The employees said they’ve tried voicing their concerns about their own health to management, but have felt stifled by management.
“They really don’t care,” an employee said. “When concerns are actually brought up to management there, they’re not being taken seriously.”
“The fact that you can die from it really makes me nervous about being there if they’re not taking the precautions to help us.”
In some cases, the employees said they felt threatened, with managers using euphemisms and corporate jargon to imply that advocating for one’s own health could be a career killer.
“They talk about your ‘brand’ and how you have to worry about your ‘brand,'” said one of the employees. “What it basically means is that you’re complaining a lot and it’s getting around.
The employees said anxiety on the floor is heightened by the fact the company won’t say where the employee who fell ill worked in the building.
“I’m nervous about it and I would never really consider myself a germaphobe,” said one of the employees. “There are only two entrances to the building. You have to go through other departments to get to your department.
The company said in an email that it is reminding employees who feel unwell to stay home and that workers who are self-isolating will continue to be paid.
The bank also said it will continue to implement physical distancing in the York Street office and make it possible for more of its staff to work from home.
“We are aiming to have the majority enabled by the end of April,” the email said.