On Friday afternoon, Nick Wheeler, a Denver-based systems engineer, blasted out an email to his boss and other team members at Charter Communications.
The subject line read: “Coronavirus – Why are we still in the office?”
Wheeler wanted to know why the telecommunications giant continued to force thousands of employees across the country to come into the office as the novel coronavirus had become a pandemic.
Shortly after the email, Wheeler was called into a meeting with his boss and human resources. He was told his email incited fear. It was inappropriate, his tone disrespectful.
In the heat of the moment, Wheeler offered his resignation. His boss told him to cool off, think about it over the weekend. But as soon as the engineer got home, he received a call telling him his resignation had been accepted.
“If this pressure causes them to change their policy and one life is saved, if one person is saved having to go through a terrible ordeal because of some underlying conditions and flu-like symptoms, that’s worth my job,” Wheeler told The Denver Post.
Other employees also contacted The Post to express their dismay at Charter Communications, the telecom company that employs 95,000 across the country, including thousands in metro Denver. They say the company is ignoring public guidance and endangering people’s health as communities across the country engage in social distancing to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.
The company said no Denver area employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, adding in a statement that Charter serves a vital role in keeping communications up across a variety of life-saving sectors.
“As one of FEMA’s Community Lifeline sectors, our services are essential,” Bret Picciolo, a company spokesman, said in a statement. “We are working around the clock to deliver uninterrupted internet, phone and TV news services to our 29 million customers, including critical institutions like hospitals, first responders and government facilities. During this time, continuing to maintain our operations, while applying the latest CDC guidelines, ensures we provide these vital communications, which help flatten the curve and protect the country. We are reviewing our business and employee continuity plans daily, and will adjust accordingly.”
But Wheeler said much of the work can be done safely and effectively from home.
“At least on the engineering and product side, I would argue all of them can work from home,” Wheeler said. “The infrastructure is in place. We do it during maintenance windows and during heavy days. Basically in my email I asked, ‘Why are we not doing that?’ Charter has a social responsibility to do whatever it can to help halt the virus.”
Charter Communications has stuck to its policy as other industry leaders have moved to allow more employees to work from home during the outbreak. AT&T on Friday instructed that all of its employees who can do their jobs remotely should immediately do, while Verizon also moved to allow more of its employees to work from home.