WeWork responds to coronavirus by telling cleaning staff to keep working
Cleaning staff at WeWork, the troubled office rental company, have been told to continue to come in during the Covid-19 pandemic and must use their paid time off or limited sick leave if they become ill, according to an internal document seen by the Guardian.
The Guardian obtained an internal document provided to cleaning staff contracted by WeWork through JLL (Jones Lang Lasalle) in New York on how to respond to inspectors who visit WeWork office buildings to ensure essential work is being conducted.
New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, ordered the shutdown of all non-essential businesses in the state on 20 March, but WeWork has kept most of its offices open, claiming some of its tenants operate essential businesses, despite the fact that most are now empty and there are reports of Covid-19 cases at some properties.
Troubled WeWork is in no condition to withstand coronavirus
“If an inspector does not see you actively performing essential work, this may increase the likelihood of being questioned or sent home,” said the document, which provided a list of prompts for workers to follow during an inspection and a list of questions they should be prepared to answer inspectors.
“Provide clear evidence of the essential work you are doing,” noted the document.
A question-and-answer sheet was also provided to contracted cleaning workers on the coronavirus, which stated workers need to use their accrued paid time off or sick time if they are diagnosed with Covid-19, required to self-quarantine due to exposure, or experience reduced work hours. If an employee does not have paid time off, the document’s response is “our human resources team is currently looking into options for employees. We will provide more information as soon as possible.”
Due to a recent change in WeWork’s cleaning contract, most workers have just three of four days of paid vacation accrued since the contract began in December 2019. (According to the cleaner, workers receive four hours of paid time off for every 40 hours worked.)
The document also claims workers’ safety will not be in jeopardy if a coronavirus case is confirmed in a building where a WeWork office is located, claiming workers shouldn’t be concerned because the building landlord will ensure all common areas and elevators are clean.
“This should not put our safety in jeopardy. In these cases, the landlord will clean all common areas including elevators, which should make it safe to enter the space,” the document states.
It also reaffirms office cleaners are essential workers during shutdown orders.
“If you can make it to work safely, there is work to be done,” added the document, which also deferred comments to state unemployment agencies on whether workers who resign will receive unemployment benefits. “Unemployment decisions are made by the state in which the employee lives. These decisions are not made by JLL.”
A cleaning employee contracted by JLL for WeWork offices in New York, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told the Guardian workers are just cleaning empty buildings.
“If WeWork closes their offices they default on contracts signed by their members, thus losing tons of money. So they are keeping them open so as not to lose out. In turn, JLL are supplying workers to clean already clean, empty buildings,” said the cleaner. “They want us to put our lives at risk in order to maintain the cleaning contracts they have with WeWork.”
As WeWork reportedly tries to renegotiate its leases in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, tenants and elected officials in New York have criticized the company for continuing to keep offices open and refusing to suspend rent for tenants.
Staff at its locations have been allowed to work from home, but a memo sent out to employees has tried to entice workers to return to the offices with $100 per day bonuses.
Contracted cleaning staff are not receiving any bonuses or additional compensation for working during the pandemic.
“It’s business as usual,” added the WeWork cleaner. “They’re not offering anything.”
WeWork declined to comment on this story, but cited press releases on office closures and coronavirus procedures. “WeWork is home to many members whose companies are essential businesses to our society – whether they be in healthcare, insurance, cleaning product supplies or others. For that reason, all WeWork locations in the US and Canada will remain open and accessible,” noted the press release.
A spokesperson for JLL told the Guardian in an email: “The management of health and operations at our managed facilities is our top priority. Some of the steps we are taking include communicating with local authorities to be aware of impacts in each market, increasing the sanitation of common areas and surface spaces, and communicating with clients regarding proactively addressing workforces that support them as needed.
“We encourage employees to follow preventive personal hygiene practices recommended by health organizations and to stay home and contact health professionals if they feel symptomatic or have come into contact with someone who has contracted the virus.”
It declined to comment further.
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