New York State Attorney General Letitia James has reportedly launched an inquiry to find out whether Charter Communications acted too slowly in allowing its employees, mainly call center workers and technicians, to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to several reports, a practice that could have led to more than 230 workers contracting the virus and two deaths.
According to a report in the New York Times, more than 230 Charter employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least two field workers have died from the virus. About 8,100 Charter workers have signed a month-old petition on change.org complaining about the company’s policies.
Charter has come under fire for its practices during the pandemic, mainly its decision to keep call center workers and technicians in offices and on the job as other companies were gearing up for allowing employees to work from home. According to some reports, in the early days of the pandemic, Charter call center workers in Ohio were forced to work side by side in tight cubicles on floors with hundreds of employees.
Charter claimed at the time that many of its call center jobs could not be performed from home and that most of the complaints were early in the pandemic, when logistics were still being worked out. But the company later allowed most of its call center employees to work from home.
Charter has about 95,000 employees in 41 states. Of those workers, about 40,000 are in call centers and other offices, with about 55,000 in customer-facing jobs like technicians and retail sales.
Some Charter workers had complained about the company’s practices during the pandemic, including criticizing its offer of $25 restaurant gift certificates instead of hazard pay to tech workers on the front lines.
Charter declined to comment on the AG inquiry but said it has worked hard to keep employees safe during the pandemic and has pledged to increase the minimum wage for its workers from $15 per hour to $20 per hour over the next two years. An initial retroactive $1.50 increase will be implemented immediately for hourly front line employees in the field and customer operation groups and they will receive another permanent $1.50 per hour raise on top of their March 2021 merit increase.
In addition, Charter said it has given every employee an extra 15 days of COVID-19 related flex time and has committed to no layoffs or furloughs for at least 60 days.
“Over the past three weeks and in accordance with CDC guidelines, we have dramatically reduced the number of employees going into the field or into the office while maintaining the efficacy of our business operations that is so critical to fighting this pandemic,” Charter said in a statement. “The significant majority of office workers and call center employees are remote."
“On our corporate campuses we have a very small percentage of employees who come into the office and those are critical roles that support the field operations,” Charter continued. “Many of those employees are on a rotating remote schedule that allow for minimal interaction, social distancing and we have escalated our cleanings in line with CDC guidelines.”