Despite multiple employee deaths from the coronavirus and dozens of positive test results, telecom giant Dish Network Corporation, and one of its prominent subsidiaries Sling TV, have charged ahead with office reopenings with no potential end to the pandemic in sight. As a result, employees are terrified and disillusioned.
“If I get the coronavirus because I had to be in the office during the pandemic and someone in my family dies as a result, will Sling cover the burial or cremation expenses?” one exasperated employee asked the company during a recent meeting with company brass.
In a virtual meeting last week with employees at Sling TV, the streaming platform subsidiary of Dish Network—which owns the third-largest pay-TV provider in the U.S. and has also recently entered the prepaid wireless phone business—staffers pleaded with higher-ups to halt the return-to-work expectations. And the company admitted that it wanted employees to start returning to the offices because business has failed to meet its goals. As such, over the past two months, hundreds of staffers have returned because of Dish and Sling’s desire to foster better in-person collaboration between some teams.
The Daily Beast obtained a readout of the meeting, which ran more than 90 minutes and primarily included hundreds of employees from the company’s Englewood, Colorado, headquarters and its Utah office. Staffers submitted dozens of questions pressing company higher-ups, including Dish’s head of human resources, about why the television provider was pressuring many staffers to return to the offices.
Multiple employees called the television provider’s response to the crisis “bungled” and “cruel,” while others said they felt no choice but to quit the company rather than risk their safety, and some staffers complained that some executives had not been wearing the required masks in the office.
“Given the situation in Utah, why are you having non-necessary people come into the office at all?” one questioner said, referencing the state’s explosion of coronavirus cases earlier this month. “This is cruel and risky to our necessary employees.”
“What is the plan to improve morale for now until when the employment market opens up enough for disgusted employees to leave?” another person asked. In response, an HR rep told them to seek employment elsewhere.
“Because we are required to be in the office for no real reason, it seems that the only available option is to quit,” another staffer chimed in. “Are there any other options that we have to stay out of the building to still remain employed at Sling?”
The meeting came after two employees at Dish’s main offices outside Denver, which hosts the majority of Sling TV staff, were likely positive for the novel coronavirus. But instead of communicating that there had been a positive case, the company did not inform staff for days, allowing the news of the virus to spread informally among employees.
In the meeting with staffers, Dish steadfastly defended its position, saying that it had implemented all of the proper safety measures including mandatory temperature checks, mask-wearing at the office, social distancing and single-direction walkways, and an internal contact-tracing program for positive cases.
Still, employees were disturbed when the company also acknowledged during the meeting that “approximately 80” employees worldwide had tested positive for the virus, and that two Dish employees had actually already died after contracting COVID-19.
The company’s HR team attempted to assuage nervous staffers by reassuring them that the cases have largely been among remote workers, and have been relegated to the in-home technicians and maintenance staff.
“The vast majority of individuals who are positive in our organization are not coming into a site on a daily basis,” Scott said. “Our IHS [in-home-services] technicians and our work-at-home individuals…is significantly over-indexed versus someone who is working at one of our sites.”
Dish has made work-from-home exceptions for staff living in households with high-risk individuals, and admitted that it has closed offices in places like California, New York, and, at one point, Chicago. But the telecom giant has completely balked at allowing some employees who feel apprehensive or scared of the workplace environment to simply continue working at home.
In an email to The Daily Beast, Scott said that the majority of Dish and Sling staff were currently working from home, adding that the only employees asked to return to the office were those requiring “access to on-site technology, tools and/or collaboration with team members to perform their work.”
He added: “Although additional employees could benefit from a return to our sites, we continue to strictly limit the number of employees who are allowed to.”
Dish has said the reason for returning to the office is simple: The business is underperforming. During the meeting, HR chief David Scott said employees “quite honestly weren’t meeting all of the business goals prior to COVID,” in terms of new user subscribers or retentions, and noted that part of the reason for returning was to get teams that were “behind on strategic goals” back to in-person spaces for collaboration.
“Our decision to return to site in our corporate roles for a subset of the teams is an attempt to drive a higher level of business performance,” he said. “As hard as I think many of us and all of us have worked even in our time away from the office… we just frankly have not met the business goals that have been in front of us.”
But asked point-blank whether the company was putting employees at an increased risk of contracting the coronavirus, HR would not answer, instead claiming that the office’s safety procedures have made the space safer than walking outside at the park.
Return-to-office policies, especially before the availability of a vaccine for the coronavirus, has been a cause of consternation, confusion, and internal staff revolts across the country, as some businesses seek to charge ahead with reopening their offices—despite an ongoing pandemic—to stave off further economic slides.
Executives at South Carolina’s largest newspaper, The Post and Courier, overruled staff complaints and required everyone to return to its Charleston headquarters, even firing one staffer who effectively boosted criticism of their policy online. Just weeks later, the paper had a case in the building.
Employees at the American Kennel Club, the historic purebred dog registry and operator of the Westminster Dog Show, also voiced their fears about the organization’s mandated return to work in Midtown Manhattan earlier this month.
Coronavirus cases in Colorado, where Dish is headquartered, have risen in recent weeks. The state recently reported a 5 percent positive test rate and a spike in hospitalizations that experts have warned is not sustainable. Earlier this week, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis mandated that bars and restaurants stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m., as a way to cut down on public gatherings and attempt to slow the rate of infection.
At the end of the meeting, Sling TV president Michael Schwimmer did not address Dish’s overall performance in managing the coronavirus outbreak. But he did say that Sling TV’s ability to limit the in-office likely cases to just two staff out of thousands was a success.
“It feels like in a very difficult situation that’s not a bad batting average at all,” he said.