An Iowa store clerk frustrated with people’s refusal to wear protective face masks quit his job after showing up for work in a shirt that read, “No f—ing mask, don’t ask for my help.”
Iowa Workforce Development records indicate that on May 14, Adam Archer quit his job at one of the 18 Iowa stores operated by Theisen’s, a retailer that specializes in home, farm and automotive products.
According to records, Archer began working at the store in 2019. In March of this year, he began having concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic as he had children in school and did not want to be exposed to the virus.
He took a leave of absence in late April, and when he returned to work in early May he was dissatisfied with the store’s efforts to protect employees from the virus.
At a subsequent hearing dealing with his request for unemployment benefits, he said he saw co-workers not wearing their face masks properly. He also noticed that some of his colleagues were not following cleaning and disinfecting guidelines in the store.
He reported his concerns to his boss, but remained unsatisfied with the store’s response. On May 12, he arrived at work wearing a T-shirt that said, “No f—ing mask, don’t ask for my help.” He was reprimanded for violating the store’s customer-service policy, and on May 14 he quit.
At his unemployment hearing, Archer argued his employer didn’t take his concerns seriously, and said he did not agree with the reprimand he received.
He was initially awarded state unemployment benefits totaling $3,190 as well as $6,000 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits. The store appealed that decision and Administrative Law Judge Duane L. Golden ruled that while Archer’s decision to quit “may have been based upon good personal reasons, it was not for a good-cause reason attributable to the employer.”
He ruled that Archer was not eligible for unemployment benefits and must repay the $9,190 already collected.
Other Iowans recently denied or awarded unemployment benefits in coronavirus-related cases include:
- Gary Severson, who quit his job at Executive Home Care on April 3, after a year and a half of employment performing janitorial work at a Whirlpool appliance-manufacturing plant. At the time, Severson lived with his elderly parents, who were 89 and 94 years old and in poor health. On March 24, the Whirlpool plant closed due to an outbreak of COVOD-19. It reopened on April 7, and Severson went back to work there the next day. He and his co-workers asked Executive Home Care for personal protective equipment, including gowns, masks, and gloves. The company allegedly refused, providing gloves only for the cleaning of toilets. The company allegedly failed to respond to Severson’s requests for additional PPE, and refused his requests to work in another building in the Cedar Rapids area. Severson stopped reporting for work at the plant but remained in contact with his boss and continued to ask for another position until June, when the company told him it did not have any work for him. An administrative law judge recently awarded Severson benefits, ruling that the working conditions at Whirlpool “were unsafe, intolerable and detrimental,” and would have caused a reasonable person to “feel compelled to quit.”
- Aldana Selimovic, who in April quit her job as a registered nurse for the Iowa hospital chain Catholic Health Initiatives. Prior to quitting, she had been assigned to care for people diagnosed with COVID-19, which required being in close, face-to-face proximity with the patients. At the time, the hospital did not have any of the N95 masks that are the preferred style for health care providers. Protective equipment in general was in limited supply, so Selimovic and others were expected to re-use PPE and other safety equipment. During Selimovic’s shift, four nurses, including Selimovic, were assigned to the COVID-19 unit, but two of the other three were pregnant and did not treat any of the patients, increasing Selimovic’s exposure. When she entered the rooms of COVID-19 patients, she did not have a face shield or a full protective suit, and as a result she resigned. She was subsequently awarded benefits, with the administrative law judge in her case saying Selimovic’s working conditions were unsafe and intolerable “due to the lack of personal protective equipment” and the hospital’s failure to protect her from infection.
- William Diaz, who in April quit his job at Prestage Foods of Iowa, where he had been employed as a food-production worker. At the time, Diaz was over the age of 65 and had medical conditions that caused COVID-19 to be particularly dangerous for him. In March, the employer took steps to increase the safety in the work environment by installing Plexiglas partitions on the work floor and by mandating the use of masks by employees. In mid-April, the company began taking employees’ temperatures when they entered the building and began offering testing for workers. On April 15, Diaz quit, citing a fear of COVID-19. He was subsequently denied unemployment benefits, with the administrative law judge noting that Diaz had not established “that he left work on the advice of a medical professional.” Although Diaz’s doctor had identified Diaz as a high-risk individual, he didn’t indicate in his written note that Diaz could not work or needed to self-isolate. The judge noted that Prestage Foods “took reasonable steps to make the work environment safer during the pandemic.”
- Maria Montes, who in April quit her janitorial job at Seaboard Triumph Food, citing asthma and diabetes as conditions that made her more susceptible to complications from COVID-19. Seaboard gave Montes masks to wear at work, but her job required her to be in close proximity to other staff. She was later awarded unemployment benefits, with the administrative law judge ruling that “the working conditions were unsafe.”
- Jimmy McGee, who in March quit his job as an industrial laborer for Diversified Services for Industry. On March 16, he was working in a John Deere plant on an engine that had been imported from China. His employer had not provided masks for workers and had run out of gloves. McGee told company officials he did not feel safe, and was advised that if he didn’t report for work he’d be fired. An administrative law judge recently awarded McGee unemployment benefits, noting that Diversified “did not provide the (protective) equipment” McGee needed, and “never offered to provide the equipment.”
- Gabriel Manyiel, who in May quit his job at the Dakota City Tyson Fresh Meats plant, citing unsafe working conditions due to the pandemic and his underlying medical issues. In April, Manyiel learned that several of his colleagues who worked alongside him on the same line in the plant had tested positive for COVID-19. On May 15, Manyiel was notified that he had tested positive for the virus, and was instructed by his physician to quarantine for 14 days. On May 29, however, 786 active cases of COVID-19 were reported at the Dakota City plant. Manyiel was recently awarded unemployment benefits, with an administrative law judge finding that despite actions taken at the plant, the working conditions there were unsafe and intolerable.
- Courtney Read, who in April quit her job as a part-time cashier at a convenience store and gas station owned by her employer, 21st Century Co-Op. At the time, Read was pregnant and had talked to her boss about her fear of being exposed to COVID-19. At the store where she worked, customers and employees were not required to wear masks. The employer placed a barrier of some type next to the cash register, but Read questioned its effectiveness. An administrative law judge recently awarded Read unemployment benefits, noting that “with COVID-19 there was a substantial change in (Read’s) job that affected her safety.”
- Ronald Gefaller, who quit his job at Thompson Truck, where he had worked since 2017. As part of his job, Gefaller had to enter commercial trucks to check odometer readings, and the passenger compartments were often stained with chewing tobacco and spit from over-the-road truckers. When COVID-19 first struck, one of Gefaller’s coworkers contracted the virus. Gefaller, who is a caregiver for his 93-year-old mother, had to self-quarantine and was unable to see his mother due to his exposure to the virus. He resigned and was later awarded unemployment benefits with the judge noting that Thompson Truck did not provide Gefaller with a mask, face shield or a barrier from customers, and also required him to enter their trucks laden with chewing tobacco and spit. “A reasonable person would be compelled to quit given the conditions,” Administrative Law Judge Heather L. Palmer ruled.
- Diane Spence, who in April tool a leave of absence from her job as a cook at an Iowa nursing home run by Care Initiatives of West Des Moines. Spence, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is 71, is at high risk of serious health issues and death from COVID-19 and her son, whom she cares for, has a respiratory condition that requires him to be on oxygen. On April 12, Spence was granted a leave of absence from her job, but that worked against her when she filed for unemployment benefits. Under Iowa law, Spence is still considered employed, even though she’s not working due to the leave of absence. She was denied unemployment benefits.