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Front-line retail workers face challenges during the pandemic

“I feel anxious whenever I think of having to go to work, especially because I have family who are immunocompromised,” says Boathouse employee Hadiqa Chaudhry. “I have to be extra cautious of those not wearing masks at the mall.”

Ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, front-line retail workers have been facing on-and-off-again restrictions. Limeridge Mall remained open with extra safety measures. Many retailers at the mall are finding that operating during a pandemic is doing them more harm than good.

Front-line exposure

Front-line retail workers are worried they will become sick from exposure to the virus. Although masks are required and social distancing is in place, retailers often come in close contact with shoppers who claim to be medically exempted from wearing masks. Many retail workers are unaware of their rights in these circumstances and feel anxious about resolving the issue.

“As long as PPE and social distancing are in place, the environment should be considered safe for employees,” security and life safety manager Dayne Charbon said. “However, if a workplace feels like a workplace is unsafe then they have the option to refuse work.”

Sick calls

Screening for COVID-19 is required for all employees when they arrive at the mall. The screening sheet determines whether an employee is healthy enough to work alongside other employees. If the screening sheet determines that a retail worker may have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone else experiencing symptoms, then they cannot work their assigned shift. In other cases, an employee may call in before entering the workplace to state that they won’t be able to work. Either scenario poses a problem for the workplace.

“Sick calls during the pandemic are a bit more challenging as it could always affect other co-workers if it’s a matter of a COVID exposure,” Boathouse manager Sean Trainer said.  “In this case, you really must be proactive on managing the situation to maintain collaboration between yourself as a manager and your staff’s safety.”

Reduced capacity, reduced hours

With the 50 per cent reduction in capacity, mall employees are finding it more challenging to get the hours they need. Only a certain number of individuals are permitted in-store, including staff. Limeridge has also reduced the mall’s hours of operation to help limit the time frame that people can be exposed to the virus. These reductions have hurt workers’ incomes.

“Usually at work, I’m able to make enough money to pay for my bills and still have money left over,” Chaudhry said. “But now I’m only working three to four hours a week and have to prioritize my most important bills.”

Like many other mall employees, she hopes that mall hours turn back to normal and capacity limits increase sooner rather than later.

The Ontario government has announced plans to lift restrictions within the next few weeks.

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