To open or not to open? Fort Myers restaurant prepares to get back to work

Reporter: Anika Henanger Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Credit: WINK News.

To open or not to open? That’s the decision many businesses are weighing tonight. The governor declared phase one of reopening the state to start Monday. But that decision isn’t an easy one.

Do businesses such as restaurants start operating again, while potentially putting their employees at risk?

When customers sit outside at the Oasis restaurant in downtown Fort Myers Monday, the restaurant hopes to have 3,000 disposable paper menus. After use, they will all go in the trash along with any germs. It’s one step among a list of many that will be taken to keep employees and customers safe.

But a lawyer says the pay likely isn’t worth the price for the possibility of getting the coronavirus.

“It’s almost a disincentive for certain employees to go back to work depending on what their income is,” attorney Robert Goodman said.

Retail and restaurant workers mostly work at minimum wage. And at a quarter capacity, tips won’t be flooding in. But as the state reopens and coronavirus lingers, workplace dangers linger too.

“It feels kind of funny to have been in business 31 years,” said Bonnie Grunberg, the co-owner of Oasis in Fort Myers. “I feel like I’m opening for the first time ever.”

Dine-in places such as Oasis are opening back up in a world where any customer could be a be carrying coronavirus.

“Well, we’re totally petrified,” Grunberg said.

So can these employees get hazard pay what seems like hazardous work conditions?

“There’s no requirement that anybody get hazard pay,” Goodman said.

Goodman says employees in Florida who are not under contract are considered “at-will.” That means you can quit or get fired for a lot of reasons, without notice.

“If you went in to your employer and said I’ll work here and I want hazard pay,” Goodman said. “Your employer could say no, and he could terminate you right then or just say no.”

What if you have an immuno-compromised child at home or are high risk yourself and decide you don’t want to risk it?

“If you are offered your job and you don’t take it, your unemployment benefits will likely terminate,” Goodman said.

But having a conversation with your boss about coming back to work might be the right move.

“Employees that we have spoken to are very comfortable to come back,” Grunberg said. “I do have one who is concerned.”

Another conversation you can have is about rearranging your role or come up with ways so you’ll face less exposure as an employee. Because, in the long run, Goodman told us your boss is invested in your health. If you get sick while working, they may have to close down and deep clean. Keeping you healthy is keeping the business healthy too.

Oasis says, even if it’s doing everything they can to keep customers and employees safe, it understands and hopes your boss does too.

“We’re not forcing that person to come back on any level,” Grunberg said. “When they’re comfortable, they’ll have a job.”

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