One of the greatest scams ever inflicted on the workplace in recent memory is COVID-19 hysteria. Test positive and … boom! You’ve just received a get-out-of-work-for-free card.
That’s what’s been going on recently. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from June 29 through July 11, about 3.9 million Americans called out from work who were either sick with COVID or were taking care of someone who had it. That’s 2.1 million more people than the same period last year.
Got COVID? Does your great aunt on your cousin’s wife’s side have it? Yay! No work for you! Well, as long as you’re an employee, that is. As for me, I run a small business. Last week I tested positive for COVID-19. So did I call out sick in order to catch up on “Ozark”? No, I did a crazy thing: I worked.
Lucky for me I don’t have an office. My 10-person company is completely virtual. Like any other small business owner in the country, unless I’m flat on my back, I’m going to keep working. My symptoms, like almost everyone’s symptoms, were mild. I never reported my positive test results. I didn’t go to the hospital. Yes, I realize a million people died of COVID-19 in the U.S. That’s bad. But, like the Spanish flu, that’s not a reality anymore. I didn’t die (sorry, haters).
In fact, virtually no one who has COVID nowadays does either. Just look at the numbers. Cases are up, and even those numbers are grossly understated due to the number of at-home tests that never get reported. Yet, deaths nationally are in the hundreds, just like any virus. More people were shot in my hometown of Philly this year than died of COVID.
When I tested positive for COVID, I treated it like a cold — I mostly avoided people just like I would with any infectious disease. Some of my friends had it rougher. They took to their beds for a day or two and had aches and pains. Just like … uh … the flu. But for all of us, life went on. I worked from home. I talked to colleagues on the phone or on Zoom. I took Tylenol and used up a box of tissues.
A cold has never stopped — and will never stop — a business from operating, and it surely doesn’t stop business owners from doing what they need to do to keep their businesses operating. I have people who depend on me. I have employees and customers and partners and suppliers that I can’t let down just because I have the sniffles. So I work through it, just like I’ve worked through every other ailment I’ve had over the years, from a broken ankle to a stomach bug. Is that selfish and rude? Considering that so many people rely on my business for their livelihoods, I kind of think it’s the opposite.
But then there’s another group. The employees who view COVID as an extended vacation. They don’t come to work, and they’re allowed to behave that way because God forbid an employer demand that they work from home or they return after only a few days or (gasp!) even while positive — because, OMG, what if someone else gets a cold too or has a relative at home over the age of 95 that may die when COVID is added to their list of all their other afflictions?
Just suggesting that an employee actually do their job, even if they’re not feeling 100%, risks cancellation, excommunication and harsh abuse in the public domain. So employers make do. They shut their businesses earlier (like a few in my neighborhood are already doing). They also shut their mouths, lest they endure the COVID-hysterical abuse from the people in this world that are still COVID hysterical.
When will COVID end? Never. It will always be here. People will always get it. This means that the COVID hysteria will also never end. This means people wearing masks when riding their bikes and driving by themselves in cars. It also means that when someone does “test positive” they’ll continue to virtue signal by taking a week off to catch up with their TV shows and ride their bikes lest they (oh no!) expose others.
There is one bright sign, however. Thanks to COVID and people working from home (and who apparently weren’t working as hard for their paycheck-issuing bosses as they once claimed), almost 10 million new businesses were started up in the past year. If a percentage of them are actually sustained, I’m betting those running their new ventures will soon realize that being COVID hysterical and not working will soon end up being the demise of their entrepreneurial dreams.
They will learn the hard, real and practical lesson that, just because they’re feeling a little unwell, doesn’t mean they don’t go to work. That’s what business owners do.
• Gene Marks is a CPA and owner of The Marks Group, a technology and financial management consulting firm specializing in small- and medium-sized companies.