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80% of workplace safety complaints are COVID-19 related in NC

A WCNC Charlotte Defenders investigation is finding a spike in workplace safety concerns that are connected to a growing number of coronavirus cases at stores.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A WCNC Charlotte Defenders investigation is finding a spike in workplace safety concerns that are connected to a growing number of coronavirus cases at stores.

The Defenders team learned about 80 percent of workplace safety complaints are related to COVID 19, according to the North Carolina Department of Labor.  It comes as Target confirms there have been two cases at the store on Northlake Center Parkway. An employee there tells WCNC Charlotte he has safety concerns about how management responded.

WCNC Charlotte is hearing about several safety concerns from the employee, including not being quickly notified about the cases.  However, the Defenders team learned state health officials do not require businesses to notify employees.

The employee, who asked his face not be shown, shared a text message from last month with WCNC Charlotte alerting him that a co-worker tested positive for coronavirus at the Target store.

“I felt it was best to alert the public,” the employee said.

He said the same store had another worker test positive for the virus in May.

“It’s kind of hard being there and just building up the courage to go into work because you never know who has it, some people don't even show symptoms,” the employee said.

The employee says he first learned about the case in May from his co-workers, but it wasn’t until several days later a manager notified him.

“You give me this decision to make a couple of hours before I come into my shift,” said the employee.

However, state health officials say employers are not required to let employees know about COVID 19 cases; the notifications are done through contact tracing.

“We have multiple cases and the public don't know about it, I think that's morally a bad thing,” said the employee.

It’s one of several cases of coronavirus at major chain stores.   Last week, an employee tested positive at a Food Lion in Rock Hill.  Before that, there was a case at Publix in Fort Mill in May.  In April, an employee tested positive at Harris Teeter in Union County.  

With all the cases popping up, the Defenders team started digging into the issue of workplace safety complaints and found there’s been a spike in complaints due to COVID 19.  According to the North Carolina Department of Labor, 80 percent of the workplace safety complaints have been COVID 19 related.  There have been a total of 1,376 complaints related to COVID 19; 512 of those are considered valid by the state.

The employee who spoke to WCNC Charlotte says he’s also concerned about the daily screening process, which the state does require employers to do.

“Asking you questions before you officially clocked into work, but that has sort of dipped down, it's almost rare,” the employee said.

A spokesman for Target sent a response saying ‘we provide all team members with a health checklist to track and monitor for any signs or symptoms of illness before coming to work, in addition to consistently checking in with team members at the beginning of shifts’.

Target provided additional information about their safety protocols as well as the statement about the positive cases below:

We’re working in close partnership with local health departments and can share that we’ve been notified that our Charlotte North store on Northlake Centre Pkwy. has experienced two team member positive cases of the coronavirus. We’ve communicated directly with the team members, who went into quarantine and are following all health department guidelines. We’re paying the team members while they’re on leave and our thoughts are with them during this challenging time. After learning about positive cases, we also work quickly to deep clean and sanitize the store, which is the recommendation of public health experts. We have notified the entire store team and provided them with the appropriate CDC guidance. We’re also providing all of our store and distribution team members with masks, gloves and thermometers, upholding rigorous cleaning routines, installing partitions at checklanes in stores and employing a variety of social distancing measures. Our top priority is the health and safety of our team members and guests. We will continue to actively monitor this situation and respond accordingly.”

Social distancing, cleaning and safety measures at our stores

Like many others, we’re taking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends regular cleaning as one of the most important preventative measures we can take. We’ve invested in and expanded rigorous cleaning routines including:

  • Providing team members with high-quality, disposable face masks and gloves to wear at work and encouraging healthy hygiene habits as guided by the CDC. Given CDC guidance on the role that face masks can play in slowing the spread of the coronavirus and to keep our team and guests safe, we’re requiring team members to wear masks or face coverings when working.
  • Having a team member stationed at each store entrance to ensure carts and baskets are clean and available in an orderly fashion.
  • Rotating the use of checklanes to allow those lanes not in use to be deep cleaned.
  • Adding payroll hours to support more rigorous cleaning routines.
  • Rolling out Plexiglass partitions to checklanes at the front of our stores, as well as at electronics, service desks, CVS Pharmacy and Target Optical.

We’re encouraging guests to observe social distancing and remain six feet apart while entering and shopping in our stores through the following measures:

  • Actively monitoring and, when needed, metering guest traffic to promote social distancing.
  • Posting signage at the front of every store.
  • Implementing floor signage.
  • Dedicating team members to ensure guests wait in line at an appropriate distance until they're called to the register.
  • Overhead audio messaging in our stores.

Target’s coronavirus information hub

For more information about the steps we’ve taken in support of our team and guests, please visit our coronavirus information hub here: https://corporate.target.com/about/purpose-history/our-commitments/target-coronavirus-hub

The employee says he took a coronavirus test because of his concerns.  Fortunately, the results came back negative.

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