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The Case of the Laid Off Loafer

Job security is questioned as a practice tries to reopen with an optician whose a little too comfortable with his unemployment.

Like most practices across the country, Littleton Eye Care was profoundly affected by the COVID-19 crisis. By the second week of the statewide stay-at-home order all six employees had been laid off. Owner Dr. Yellen had been unsuccessful in applying for grants and loans, eventually using personal funds to supplement the practice’s bank balance.

Now, a week before Dr. Yellen planned to reopen, he was meeting with office manager Carmen. They sat at opposite ends of the reception room, each festooned in PPE gear.

“I’ve called each staff member to explain what the protocol will be to maintain social distancing,” said Dr. Yellen. “We have enough masks and gloves for three weeks, but you’ll need to order more.”

Carmen scribbled a note on his clipboard. “Sure… we do have an issue, however. Peter called me after he got your voicemail and said he won’t return to work next week.”

“Is he sick?”

NATALIE TAYLOR is owner of Artisan Eyewear in Meredith, NH. She offers regional private practice consulting and ABO/COPE approved presentations. Email her at [email protected]
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“No,” Carmen said, rolling her eyes. “He’s on unemployment, making a ton of money. I mean, he didn’t say that was the reason. He thinks it’s too soon to reopen and he doesn’t want to get his family sick. But before all this he wanted a big raise – now he’s got it!”

“It would be too hard to open without Peter,” Dr. Yellen said, leaning his head back tiredly.

“Lena can’t handle the optical department on her own. No way.”

“Actually, this is kind of crazy,” Carmen said, pulling her cell phone out. “I need to find the e-mail, but our website got a random resume from an optician. She has like, twenty years of experience!”

“Are you suggesting firing Pete?”

“He isn’t unemployed anymore,” Carmen exclaimed with frustration. “If he wants to refuse work, we need to report that to the state. I agree about Lena, she needs a mentor here and there’s no way the office can open without an optician, patients would go crazy.”

“I know you aren’t Pete’s biggest fan, but he’s an excellent optician,” Dr. Yellen replied.

“Barely anyone in our county has gotten sick,” Carmen said. “If everyone wears a mask there’s almost no chance of getting the virus. It’s totally off the rails. At least this applicant actually wants to work!”

Dr. Yellen was quiet for a moment, deep in thought. “I think I’m going to see if I can increase Pete’s pay temporarily, call it hazard pay, to try to find a compromise with this unemployment check. I really can’t open without a strong optician.”

Carmen’s eyebrows shot up. “I certainly hope that means all six of us are getting the same deal.”


1. Should Pete be able to keep his job if he refuses to come back to work when it reopens? Why or why not?

2. If you were Carmen, what would you do if Dr. Yellen pays hazard pay only to ‘essential employee’ Pete?

3. If you were Dr. Yellen, what would you tell Pete?

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