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Gavin’s Story of Ableism and Unemployment

The story of Gavin, who experienced ableism in the workplace and became unemployed after asking his superior to accommodate workers with existing health issues due to the COVID-19 crisis

More than 40 million Americans filed unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic- a number that the United States has not seen since The Great Depression. The economic impacts of this health pandemic have been catastrophic, especially for the working class of the country. In the same bill that provided large corporations a corporate bailout of $500 billion, the government issued a one-time check of $1200 to over 80 million Americans, However, this has been proven insufficient with millions who are facing the threat of eviction and struggling to afford basic necessities.

Here is the personal story of Gavin who is one of the many that got unemployed as a result of this pandemic.

Gavin had recently applied for his first office job in hopes that it would help him afford treatment for his debilitating chronic pain. He felt that it was a real “life changer” as his previously held physically- demanding job “dramatically worsened” his pain and fatigue symptoms. After a car accident, Gavin has had to use a wheelchair. Thus, he requested for parts of his office to be wheelchair accessible.

Although his immediate manager told him that it would be “no problem”, a few days later, the GM(General Manager) of the company asked him if he “really wanted to take the job” considering that he wanted to use a wheelchair for even parts of his job. Gavin later on explained that it was within his right to ask for reasonable accommodations, as per the ADA(Americans With Disabilities Act) which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations. However, Gavin’s experience with workplace ableism didn’t end there. He was also told that “No-one would want to be in a wheelchair” and that he would never be “beautiful in a wheelchair” by the HR(Human Resources) representative. It was certainly no smooth journey for Gavin from the very beginning of his time at the company.

However, when March arrived, an unexpected line of events unfolded.

With the worsening COVID-19 situation, Gavin thought it would be best for the company to shift to working at home, especially since their jobs could be done behind a computer screen. Although the immediate manager and his coworkers enthusiastically agreed to this, his immediate manager told him that the GM of the company would be unlikely to permit this, as he considered it a “privilege” to be held for “certain employees”-employees that Gavin noted to be mostly middle aged, cishet, able bodied and upper middle class white men. The immediate manager’s statements were proven to be right.

Gavin asked the GM of the company if it was possible for immunocompromised workers to work from home-including Gavin, himself, who has a weak immune system due to the steroids he took for medical purposes as well as his co-workers who suffered from medical conditions such as Asthma, Diabetes and Lupus. He went on to explain that it was stated on the government website that letting immunosuppressed workers work from home was one of the examples given for reasonable accommodations employers should be making amidst the COVID-19 period. However, Gavin was met with condescension, yet again. The GM refused to listen, stating that he wasn't paying him “just to sit at home” and how if he wasn't able to do the job, he “just shouldn't have taken it”. Gavin responded by explaining how there wasn't a “global pandemic” when he took the job but to no avail.

Gavin laid out the action plan that he had helped come up with for ways to let at-risk workers work from home, explaining the harms of letting immunocompromised workers such as himself work during this period and how it would be a “literal death sentence”. The GM simply reiterated his previous statements and added that working from home was a “privilege”, making it clear that such accommodations would not be made. Gavin left the meeting with the burden of speaking to the HR of the company about the legality of the matter.

Although the HR said Gavin’s claims about what reasonable accommodations constitute as would be researched, he woke up to a call less than 18 hours notifying him of his termination from the company. In the call, they justified the termination by stating that the company was “moving in a different direction”.

However, a few hours later, Gavin noticed there was a new job opening at the company that they were “urgently hiring for”- the exact same position that he was fired from. He knew that he was never fired because of the company heading in a different direction but because he knew his rights as a worker and “fought for them”. Even after all that unfolded, Gavin refused to give up. He went on to file a claim about the unlawful termination, which the Colorado unemployment did an investigation on. When confronted about it, the company said that it was due to Gavin’s inability to do the job.

To Gavin, it was very clear that his termination wasn't due to economic constraints but because of how far he was willing to go to fight for his rights as a worker. The company told him to look for a new job instead of setting 3 planks of plywood down so that “he could get over bumps in his wheelchair”. Due to the situation in which he was fired, he did not qualify for any extra financial assistance from the federal government other than what he got from unemployment benefits, which he believed was already insufficient for “anyone to even feed themselves on, let alone rent or other living expenses”.Since this job was his way of affording treatment for his debilitating chronic pain, he is now unsure of whether or not he will be able to even afford diagnosis, in the first place. He also fears that his unemployment insurance will be revoked, placing him under massive financial stress at the moment.

"They sincerely have no passion for the humans they employ and fully expect anyone working for them to place their life on the line for the profit of the few men that own the company.”

-Gavin about the company he was fired from

2 days after a confirmed COVID-19 case was recorded in Gavin’s father’s worklace, Gavin and his father started showing symptoms. Although Gavin had managed to recover, his father started to experience breathing issues. He brought his father to the hospital out of concern. Fortunately, his chest scans came out clear and his heart rate was healthy. However, the nurse stated that they were assuming that everyone who came in with symptoms had the virus, asking his father if he wanted to get admitted to the hospital for observation and an official test (admission was the only way to get a COVID-19 test). Gavin;s father declined, choosing to recover at home, instead.

Gavin not only thinks the government’s response to this health pandemic has been disappointing but deeply catastrophic. He thinks the government is practising “eugenics through neglect” where the rich determine how the country is run based on what’s best for their own profits, choosing not to care even if it means that poor people, sick people and people of colour die at disproportionate rates.

“They see it and they don't care, the same way leaders knew about AIDS and actively chose to ignore it. Republicans (and anyone who prioritizes the economy over human lives) have repeatedly stated they would happily let swaths of Americans die for their own profit, and the reason they're okay with that is because they fundamentally view sick, disabled, elderly, poor, and non-white Americans as less than human.”

Gavin is also disappointed with the state level response. Jared Polis, the governor of Colorado, had repeatedly “waffled on restrictions” which confused the people and had eased lockdown measures at an unsafe timing that resulted in people “openly flouting the rules”

“When a representative says "Oh, it will be sad, but we need to make sacrifices", what they're saying is that you must make that sacrifice by laying your own head on the chopping block.”

#covid19 #coronavirus #unemployment #worker #discrimination #ableism #workplacediscrimination #government #workingclass #health