Factory Employee Fears Returning to Work after Coworkers Contract COVID-19

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A factory worker said she fears returning to a west Dallas gift card-making facility after a handful of co-workers contracted COVID-19.

Although times are tough for the wife and mother of five, Karina Montes Zuniga has chosen to forego a paycheck.

“This is the second week now that I’m home,” she said.

She’s too scared, she said, to immediately return to Multi Packaging Solutions in west Dallas after learning some coworkers contracted COVID-19.

“We work inside, sometimes side by side and that’s not even six feet,” she said.

Packaging company WestRock confirmed to NBC 5 a ‘small number of employees at the Dallas card facility’ tested positive for the coronavirus.

A spokesman would not say how many employees contracted the virus when reached for comment but released the following statement about protocols:

"If any employee tests positive, we are following all CDC guidelines to address the situation.  We continue to take the proper steps to protect the health and safety of our WestRock team, including practicing social distancing, implementing daily health screenings and temperature checks, and reinforcing proper hygiene and preventative practices. We have also increased cleaning and sanitization protocols at our facilities."

Zuniga claims she and others have been exposed to confirmed COVID-patients and should be allowed to self-quarantine with pay, and not be forced to use vacation days.

“It’s not fair for us to feel unsafe at work,” she said.

Attorney Dave Wishnew of Crawford, Wishnew & Lang PLLC has this advice for workers like Zuniga:

“Go to a doctor immediately and tell the doctor the exposure you believe you had… If the employee thinks she needs to self-quarantine she needs to go to a healthcare provider and have that healthcare provider provide that recommendation to the employer.”

Wishnew said a doctor’s “note” can help ensure paid quarantine under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act that applies to employers with less than 500 workers.

“She should seek legal council if she’s forced to work in a situation where CDC guidelines are not followed,” he added.

WestRock also stated: 'There is nothing more important to WestRock than the health and safety of our employees, and we follow CDC guidelines for protecting employees and minimizing exposure to the virus. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, they are quarantined with pay for up to 30 days, the other employees are notified, and the facility is disinfected and sanitized. We also identify employees who may have been in direct contact with the individual who tested positive and, out of an abundance of caution, they are also quarantined with pay.'

“Right now, it’s about safety and communication with your employer,” said Wishnew. “Let them know your concerns and provide the healthcare provider’s recommendation of self-quarantine to the employer.”

Zuniga intends to return to work on Monday, though she said she and other colleagues are still awaiting their own COVID-19 test results.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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