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Retail workers say not enough social distancing in Utah

FILE -- (Shoppers outside of a remodeled Smith's Marketplace in June 2019. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – Supermarket chains like Smith’s and Costco are taking more measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in their stores, but some retail workers worry they might not be enough.  They say the number of people going to stores isn’t going down, and they don’t feel safe at work.

Recently, several people have sent emails to KSL describing what they see behind the counters at supermarket and pharmacy chains.  Their main complaints don’t focus so much on what the stores are doing during this pandemic, but how the customers are behaving.

One pharmacy employee wrote, “The store becomes flooded by large families, couponers, teens and children all in groups. No social distancing. People standing over the register counters invading the cashier’s space.

Another woman, who wants to stay anonymous to protect her husband’s job, says, “People are failing to social distance in the store.”

Even when she goes to the store, herself, she sees people standing too closely to other customers.  She claims people walk into her personal space all the time and she has to fight the urge to tell others to go away.  She says teens and young adults are especially bad at keeping their distance.

She adds, “Realize that these employees have families and they need to go home to them.”

The Employers Council President Ryan Nelson says employers have several things they’re required to provide for their workers.  They have to keep the workplace free from “obvious hazards,” and follow local and federal health guidelines.

“Some companies are just doing it better,” Nelson says.

Also, bosses have to create plans that comply with three specific requirements.

  • Reduce the transmission of the virus among employees
  • Maintain a healthy business operation
  • Maintain a healthy work environment

However, Nelson says this virus isn’t like other kinds of workplace safety issues.  If someone gets injured on the job, investigators can normally find out what exactly happened.  In this case, the problem is invisible and it’s almost impossible for someone to prove if they got sick at work or someplace else.

“If an employee has a concern, express it.  Talk to your employers and express your concern.  At the same time, recognize that we don’t have perfect information,” Nelson says.

No matter where someone contracts the virus, Nelson says they can get money for lost wages.

He says, “The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides very specific benefits to an employee in those instances.  Basically, paid time away from work.”