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Stories From a Part-time Retail Employee During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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

There is no doubt that our part-time or full-time jobs (pre-COVID) are hard enough as it is. You have the challenges of balancing work with school and family, having customers disregard your feelings and personal life and being buried in tasks that are just too tiring. Well, if you thought you disliked your part-time/full-time job before COVID-19, think again.

Work has become a lot worse, and with all the rapid changes in safety requirements, there are too many horror stories to live through during the pandemic.

Being an Asian Employee During the Beginning of COVID-19

Now that public spaces such as community centres, malls, restaurants and theatres are opening up, employees have to make the most effort to adapt. For instance, as an Asian-Canadian retail sales associate at an outlet, the pandemic’s start was challenging predominantly due to Trump calling the virus the “Chinese virus” or “Asian virus.”

Being that the virus first started in China, many xenophobic incidents occurred during my job. Customers would either ignore me or my fellow Asian colleagues only to go straight to other colleagues who were not of Asian ethnicity. Since budget cuts resulted in cutting off commission, my earnings appeared almost half of what I usually made because no customer wanted to interact with an Asian person.

Mass Layoffs vs. Mass Hiring and Employment vs. CERB/CRB

Although the racial anxiety dialled down, there has been more stress on all retail employees. During the pandemic, many companies experienced mass layoffs––whether temporary or permanent––to keep up with the economy, and now that public spaces are allowing larger capacities, businesses (big or small) face the consequences of being understaffed due to CERB/CRB mooching.

Since CERB/CRB paid more than the average minimum wage ($14.35/per hour)–especially on reduced hours–employers struggled to hire more employees. From personal experience, I watched my team go from 40 employees to 15, and to this day, we are still trying to hire more people. Essentially, being understaffed means extra hours, extra tasks and extra stress.

Safety Requirements vs. Non-Compliant Customers

The safety requirements, along with non-compliant customers, are probably the most difficult. First, of course, we must respect social distancing and the mask requirements. There are many situations where customers would get hostile if asked to comply. For instance, my store only allows 25 customers to ensure safe social distancing, but since this makes the store look empty, customers refuse to wait in line to the point where I get ignored and shoved. Although these measures are required, customers sneak in the infamous “I am mask exempted” or “I have a medical condition where I cannot wear a mask.” Even though it is a requirement, employees cannot ask for any proof of exemption or medical history, meaning anyone––whether a carrier or even a positive COVID-19 person––can freely come inside the store just by saying they are mask exempt or have a medical condition.

What’s next?

Although being an Asian employee is no longer an issue working in retail, a new challenge has arisen: requesting vaccine passports which have been in effect since Sept. 22, 2021. Since the passports have been recently issued, there is still no knowledge of how Ontario’s population will react or just how reluctant customers will be coming into stores.

I am a 3rd year English major at Ryerson University. As my aspirations grow, I am writing to connect with readers in everyday situations, problems, and feelings. Here to make all audiences feel relevant and heard one article at a time. Content may include and is not limited to social injustices, your daily news, mental health and wellness, and style and beauty.
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