At least 18 employees who work at Total Quality Logistics’ (TQL) corporate headquarters near Cincinnati have tested positive for COVID-19 since late June, including six new cases as of Friday.
However, current employees say they are upset that TQL, the second-largest freight brokerage in the U.S. with nearly 5,000 employees in 57 offices across 26 states, is not allowing employees to work remotely even though the company recently updated its virtual network.
Chris Brown, chief human resources and legal officer of TQL, told workers that the COVID-19-positive employees work on the second and third floors of the company’s headquarters, according to emails obtained by FreightWaves.
As of press time, Brown had not responded to a FreightWaves’ email or telephone call seeking comment as to why employees don’t have the option of working remotely unless they worked in close proximity to or had prolonged contact — around 15 minutes — with an employee who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Some said they are allowed to work remotely if they or a family member at home has a weakened immune system, but that others who have expressed concerns about possibly contracting the highly contagious virus have been asked to provide a doctor’s note to human resources if they want to work remotely.
“Those who work remotely feel pressure almost daily to return,” said one employee, who works at one of TQL’s 57 offices and spoke on condition of anonymity. “I do not know how many are still working from home, but it is very few.”
Brown said in his emails that employees should “follow the mask, sanitation and social distancing guidelines.” However, some employees, who didn’t want to be named for fear of retaliation, told FreightWaves that brokers at all of TQL’s offices work in close quarters and share desks and equipment, such as telephones and keyboards, with the night shift, which makes it nearly impossible to ensure that proper sanitary protocols are followed.
TQL employees confirmed to FreightWaves that masks are “required” in the office, but say it’s not being enforced at some of the locations because brokers and other employees say it’s hard to talk on the phone while wearing a mask when they are expected to make up to 100 cold calls per day.
Tom Millikin, corporate communications manager of TQL, told FreightWaves early Friday he didn’t have any information related to a COVID-19 outbreak at the company’s headquarters and said he “would look into it.”
However, as of press time late Friday, Millikin had not responded to FreightWaves’ requests for comment.
Clermont County, Ohio, Health Department confirms spike in COVID-19 cases
As of Friday, nearly 4.1 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the U.S., resulting in more than 144,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In Ohio, there have been more than 74,000 confirmed cases, including more than 9,400 in the past seven days.
Keith Robinson, communications coordinator of the Clermont County Health Department, confirmed there has been a recent spike in COVID cases.
“Our numbers have increased over the last two to three weeks, going back a month or so, so we are definitely seeing an increase in the number of cases in our county,” Robinson told FreightWaves.
TQL headquarters is located in Clermont County, Ohio.
TQL comes under fire over handling of COVID-19 concerns
Current employees told FreightWaves they fear retaliation if they express their concerns to human resources about possibly working from home to avoid possible exposure to the coronavirus.
That’s because Ken Oaks, chief executive and co-founder of Cincinnati-based TQL, has faced harsh criticism from current and former employees about the company’s handling of “as many as 700 employees” who were let go over a three-day period in mid-March amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Seemingly overnight, some former TQL employees claim they became “casualties of the coronavirus,” saying the company “put profits over people.”
Some told FreightWaves at the time that workers were fired because the company simply didn’t have the technological bandwidth to support all of its employees working remotely.
TQL has denied suggestions that the firings were linked to server capacity issues in March.
“No other internal or external factors played a part in these decisions,” Millikin told FreightWaves around the time of the dismissals.
Sources familiar with the matter allege the mass firings were “related to issues with setting up remote access” using Citrix, the company’s virtual network, and were not the result of employee “underperformance issues,” as Oaks and Millikin told FreightWaves at the time.
Over the past four months, some TQL employees told FreightWaves, upgrades were made to Citrix that addressed the issue of the remote system crashing, which allegedly led to the mass firing.
TQL’s Ken Oaks issues return to work order
However, Oaks announced in late May that employees were expected to return to the office on June 8, ahead of a large new-hire class that started on June 15.
In Oaks’ email to employees, obtained by FreightWaves, he said the decision was based on some of the “feedback” he received from TQL employees.
“This will ensure all systems and workstation needs are met and allow us to adjust to life back in the office and be fully operational so the onboarding experience meets the high standards we pride ourselves on,” Oaks said in the email. “The commitment to developing our people and honoring our commitment to teamwork is a huge part of what makes this company great.”
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