A Whitehorse woman working at Earls and Better Bodies says she was laid off from the restaurant after the gym was flagged for COVID-19 exposure last month.
“When the new cases started passing through Better Bodies, I work there and 80 per cent of the (Earls) servers also work out there, we’re all in the same bubble, but a lot of the kitchen staff said if we continued to work out at Better Bodies they would walk out, and quit, and they weren’t feeling safe,” Regan Fuerstner told the Yukon News on Dec. 1.
Fuerstner was a full-time server at Earls and a part-time fitness trainer at Better Bodies. Though fitness training is her chosen career path, she doesn’t have enough clientele to work at the gym full-time, necessitating a second job.
Fuerstner said her manager gave her the option of leaving Earls, to collect employment insurance and maintain her part-time work at the gym.
“It wasn’t really right for him to give me the option between two jobs, I don’t think,” Fuerstner said.
Fuerstner approached Employment Services on Nov. 23, who directed her to the Human Rights Commission, and then a lawyer. She spoke with her Earls manager about the meeting, and was told she would be fired if she pursued action with the Human Rights Commission. She was laid off for 14 weeks the following day.
A spokesperson for Earls said all communication between staff is internal and would not comment on the allegation.
The Yukon Bureau of Statistics released data on Dec. 22 showing that jobs in the accommodation and food services sector are down 20.7 per cent, equivalent to 398 jobs, across the territory when comparing this October to October 2019.
“Earls is pretty slow, a lot of people aren’t going out to restaurants anymore, so eventually he’ll start laying off more people, I’m sure,” Fuerstner said.
“For me, I think he laid me off for what I think were very wrong reasons.”
Fuerstner noted that as a full-time employee, she likely wouldn’t be the first to be laid off under normal circumstances. She isn’t sure she’ll return to work at the restaurant after her layoff period ends.
“I don’t feel respected there,” she said.
“It’s not just myself who’s experiencing it, it’s also other workers at other businesses, their employers are concerned with what they’re doing outside of work.
“Even though we’re going through a pandemic, I don’t think what we do outside of work should be controlled.”
John Laffra, Earls manager, told the News that Fuerstner’s layoff notice wasn’t related to her job at Better Bodies.
“The layoff was entirely due to our revenues being down,” Laffra said.
“Each decision is tough for us; we’re trying to ensure that the business survives.”
Laffra said on Dec. 2 that he had laid off three other Earls employees and cut everyone’s shifts in response to dropping revenues. He refused comment on whether he had directed any of his employees to avoid Better Bodies or other COVID-19 exposure sites.
Laffra added that he instructed Fuerstner that she’s “entitled to do whatever she wants” regarding pursuing legal action, a conversation he says took place after she was laid off.
He noted that concern about public exposure notifications has been tangible with both staff and customers.
“I think people across the city were concerned with all of the increasing COVID cases,” Laffra said.
Dr. Brendan Hanley, chief medical officer, said on Dec. 8 he hasn’t directed employers regarding staff who have two jobs.
Public exposure notifications don’t suggest that a place of business is unsafe or presents an ongoing risk of exposure, he explained.
“If there are concerns about ongoing transmission risk or the suitability of a particular place to be open, then it won’t be open,” Hanley said.
“If it’s open, it’s good to go, and we should be patronizing our local businesses like we always do.”
Fuerstner said she is currently assessing whether pursuing legal action would be worth the time and legal fees. In the meantime, the future is uncertain, she said.
“I’ve thought about finding another serving job…. Honestly, I’m not too sure where the next six months is going to take me. It’s a little bit stressful, that’s for sure,” Fuerstner said.
Contact Gabrielle Plonka at firstname.lastname@example.org