I Work in a Job Where It's Not Possible for Me to Work From Home, & Here's What I Want You to Know

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Who am I? I’m just your average, everyday health & beauty retail worker. I stock our shelves to give you the typical products you need, but since this virus began, I’m not your average, everyday retail worker anymore–I’m one of the many “essential” workers on the frontlines, providing you with products such as hand sanitizer, surface disinfecting wipes, lysol and the gloves you use to protect yourselves from COVID-19.

I thought for sure that my store was going to be one of the stores that closed for the pandemic. On Google maps, we’re classified as a beauty store.“That’s it, I’m going to be staying home with my parents waiting for all this to pass,” I thought. “There’s no way we’ll stay open.”

Then, one day, I went to work, and one of my co-workers handed me a letter. I asked her what the letter was for, and she told me, “You’re going to need to keep it, in case a cop pulls you over.” At that moment, I knew two things: one, we weren’t closing anytime soon and two, I was officially essential.

So what exactly comes with this essential status, you may wonder? Well, I have to continue going to work when I’m scheduled. I don’t have the opportunity to work from home like many do, though I am fortunate to still have a job. I'm surrounded by a couple of amazing co-workers who are on the frontlines beside me, and we’re coping with this tough time together. I continue to stock shelves, and face exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Not only am I putting myself in danger of potential exposure, but I’m putting my parents–who are in their late 50s, with underlying health conditions–in danger as well, just for living under their roof.

You may be thinking this probably isn’t a fair tradeoff... you’re stocking the shelves for a community, and in return have a risk of contracting this virus? You’re correct. This is in no way fair to me, or any other employee that works in any essential business right now, but we do it so that you, I, our friends, family and the community can have the necessary resources to keep living. While we get some satisfaction being the ones that everyone turns to during this time, there are some things you should know about what I deal with every day as an essential worker who cannot work from home.

I take extra precautions when I get out of work. 

The moment I get home, I clean my steering wheel, radio and anything else I’ve touched in my car. As soon as I get into my house, I put all of the clothes I wore to work in a separate laundry basket and take a shower right away–soaking my hair, even if I just washed it the day before–and then clean off my phone, watch, glasses and anything else I wore. Usually, I’ll wash those clothes the same day, unless I have off the next day. 

Before this outbreak, I never went to any of these extents. I just came home and relaxed. Now, I don’t want to risk any pathogens spreading into my home, so I do all I can to prevent that.

You need to stay home if you’re feeling sick. 

I cannot stress this one enough; please stay home if you feel ill, no matter how minor it seems. In the past few days, I’ve heard of employees working in areas surrounding my store testing positive for COVID-19 and since then, I don’t trust any customer that comes in–especially if they cough. There was a customer under quarantine who called us and told us they needed to come out to the store to get things and we stressed that they have someone pick it up for them, since we don’t deliver. While I am unsure if they came out to the store or called someone to pick up their things, this is an example of how I have lost trust in customers and put myself on the frontlines every day.

Thankfully, we are receiving hazard pay for the time being, but others aren’t so lucky. A couple of my co-workers had to quarantine themselves due to potential exposure, and those employees aren’t getting paid for the 14 days that they’re under quarantine. Please don’t risk our lives, or our livelihoods. If you need anything, please contact a healthy person to go and get it for you, or order it through a delivery service. This minimizes the risk of certain essential workers coming into contact with the virus, and you still get what you need. That sounds like a win-win to me.

I have no choice but to wear gloves when I work. 

Where I live, it is currently mandated that all essential workers wear gloves–but I also wear gloves by choice. Even when I go to the supermarket, I wear gloves. I wear gloves to not only minimize my chances of coming into contact with the virus, but to minimize your chances as well. They are annoying to wear because my hands sweat, and they’re huge on me, but I change them every half an hour to an hour, with the exception of touching someone who presents symptoms of the virus. When someone doesn’t sound well, I change my gloves immediately after they leave and wipe down the surface and card reader. I’m also avoiding touching my face by keeping my hair in a ponytail so it doesn’t constantly touch my face and give me an itch. And if I do have an itch, I will sanitize or wash my hands before I touch my face or just try to ignore the itch.

Stockpiling doesn’t help you, and it hurts everyone else. 

Toilet paper in excess will not help you fight this pandemic, so please stop stockpiling it. When items sell out, it hinders the supply chain because we have to wait for the warehouse to ship more to the store. Eventually, if everyone continues to stockpile toilet paper, the warehouse will run out as well and will have to wait for the manufacturer to produce and ship more to them. By stockpiling, you inconvenience all those around you who cannot get any of the supplies you have a surplus of, and you risk needlessly endangering others who come into the store and can’t even find what they need. 

I’m a human, too–please don’t be rude. 

The number of rude people I’ve encountered since this has started is way too high.  Please be nice to anybody you encounter, essential worker, customer or otherwise. I’d rather be home safe with my family than working at a place where I could easily contract COVID-19,and I speak for many essential workers when I say this. I understand that this is a stressful, scary time for you, but I feel the same way. I’ll help you in any way I can if you’re willing to treat me like a human being, but if you’re going to get angry with me over something I cannot control, I can’t help you.

I actually do clean the surfaces by the register. 

So please don’t complain about how the surface is dirty or how the screen is dirty, because I actually put time and effort into cleaning that surface for your safety. I used to clean the surface only if a customer sounded sick, but now I clean the surface and card reader after every customer. And my co-workers clean their own surfaces once they’re done helping customers, too. I understand that people get skived by germs, especially now, and that’s perfectly fine–but don’t take it out on me. You’re the one that chose to come into a public place today.  If you’re concerned about the surface being dirty or germs, please refer to my final point.

Social distancing is not optional at this time-it’s a must.

We have tape on the floor to show customers what six feet apart looks like, but while some customers think what we're doing is smart, others criticize us for trying to break the chain. A woman about my age looked at me weirdly for practicing social distancing, then claimed that we’d either all get it or that it will all blow over soon. I also had a guy who was hounding me about how I feel about all of this because he didn’t believe this was all that serious. Yes, these are real people I encounter every day. It’s real, it’s serious and social distancing is one of the best ways to help defeat it. I’m not saying bring a tape measure with you and make sure it’s exactly six feet apart, but be mindful of your distance. If you’re in a store that’s extremely crowded, try to either avoid the crowds or leave the store if you feel uncomfortable and cannot avoid the crowd. You have all the time in the world to go back. Do not have any physical contact with anyone right now–even those you’re quarantined with. My own parents, whom I live with, will not even give me a hug right now because they don't want to risk anything. It's better and safer to practice this distance with everyone, than to be sorry later on. 

WASH YOUR HANDS. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to wash your hands thoroughly whenever you can. If you cannot at the moment, use hand sanitizer. I make sure that whenever I can get to the sink, I wash my hands. I especially do this before eating a meal, after returning from a store or just coming into contact with someone who seems sick. Even coming out of the store after wearing gloves, I make sure to always use hand sanitizer. By washing your hands and practicing good hygiene, you just might break the chain of passing on this virus. Remember, I have people I want to protect from COVID-19 as much as you do–and the best way to do that is to wash your hands.

This will help flatten the curve so you and I can both get through this faster, and help each other out in the meantime. After this, please remember the respect all the essential workers deserve, because they’re the ones who got you through the tough times. During this time of COVID-19, you’ll see a lot of true colors, from friends to companies–don’t let your true colors be dark.