Employees at the Domino's Pizza in Cary say they were pressured to come into work after being exposed to other staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 in January, according to complaints filed with the McHenry County Department of Health.
Three cases of COVID-19 were identified among Domino's employees beginning Jan. 24, two of which were among store managers, according to one of the complaints and other health department documents obtained by the Northwest Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request. Because the employees who tested positive were also roommates, the cases did not qualify as an outbreak.
"Upper management has demonstrated they are not concerned and are still insisting that employees come in," the complaint filed Jan. 29 read.
The store's owner, Reece Arroyave, said he takes COVID-19 safety protocols very seriously at his stores, but said he does not require employees to quarantine or be tested for COVID-19 after being directly exposed to someone who has tested positive.
Instead, Arroyave said the store closely monitors exposed employees for symptoms through temperature checks and screenings that are documented in a log and anyone who displays any kind of symptom is sent home immediately to quarantine.
"We were never instructed and I haven't seen the instruction that says if someone is exposed that they have to quarantine," Arroyave said. "The health department never told us that because you had one positive case that anybody who worked with them should quarantine for 10 to 14 days."
Employees who could have come into close contact with an infected person are recommended to quarantine for 14 days before returning to work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 guidance for businesses. Close contact is defined as coming within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
The CDC offers two other options for businesses that can be used to "mitigate staffing shortages" but are not "the preferred options," according to the guidance. Exposed employees can quarantine for a 10-day period or for a 7-day period as long as they test negative at the end of the 7-day period.
Shortly after the first positive case was identified at the Domino's Pizza in Cary on Jan. 24, the McHenry County health department received two complaints about the business' handling of the cases, according to the documents obtained by the Northwest Herald.
One of the health department's communicable disease investigators, Faith Schoen, spoke with the district manager of the store on Jan. 29 about the complaints. After the call, she wrote in an email to her team that she "did not have a good feeling" the manager was planning to adhere to the required 10-day quarantine period for anyone exposed to the virus.
One person alleged upper management was "still insisting that employees come in" even after being exposed, according to the complaint email.
Arroyave said he considers his managers as friends and feels certain they would not put the health of their employees at risk. He said any exposed employees who wanted to quarantine were allowed to do so and anyone who tested positive was required to do so.
"If that was said or done, we were not aware of it," he said. "We did not authorize it or encourage or condone it and that would be something that we would address with the team to make sure that they understand that we don't encourage anyone to come back before the mandated quarantine time to recover."
A complaint was also filed with the Illinois Department of Labor through the Occupational Safety and Health Act, according to documents obtained from the health department.
In the email, Schoen wrote that her "main concern" after speaking with the manager was they were letting employees back into the workplace after being exposed to COVID-19.
The Domino's employees who decided to get tested of their own did so one to two days after being exposed, Arroyave said. According to CDC guidance, "early testing after exposure at a single time point may miss many infections" as there is often a lag between exposure and detectable infection.
The employees who decided to get a test returned to work four or five days later after testing negative and all exposed employees were back at work by Feb. 7, Arroyave said.
The store's district manager told Schoen their policy for COVID-positive employees is to follow up after seven days and to "follow doctors' orders," according to the email. Schoen said she repeatedly told the manager that workers needed to be out for a full 10 days and could only be allowed back to work 24 hours after any symptoms subsided.
"This was stressed many times," Schoen said at the conclusion of her notes on the phone call. "Again, did not have a good feeling."
Also in the email, Schoen said she explained the health department's quarantine procedures which state employees can be brought back without quarantining only if a critical infrastructure business, which does include food service, is in "crisis mode" and absolutely needs to stay open.
According to the CDC, "This option should be used as a last resort and only in limited circumstances, such as when cessation of operation of a facility may cause serious harm or danger to public health or safety."
According to the email, the manager gave the impression she wanted to use this excuse to require employees to come back to work prematurely, causing Schoen to reiterate this was only to be done if the store was in crisis mode.
Arroyave said he has been serving the Cary community with this location for 15 years and cares deeply about providing a safe environment for employees and customers. He said he feels he has done more than many other businesses in regards to COVID-19 safety, including spraying the store's surfaces with a chemical disinfectant spray every week and immediately following the identification of a positive case.
After the Jan. 29 call, the health department sent two inspectors Feb. 2 to visit the Domino's, according to the documents obtained by the Northwest Herald.
In their notes from the visit, the inspectors said they met with the store's assistant manager as the manager was not there. The assistant manager was not aware of the positive cases, but an employee illness log showed one employee had tested positive Jan. 24 and had not returned to work since, according to the report.
As of Feb. 9, the inspectors had not heard back from the store's manager and spoke with the assistance manager again to request a call back from the manager, according to the report.
Arroyave said his district manager spoke with a representative of the health department about seven to 10 days ago and his district manager was told the health department had closed its investigation.
A spokesperson for the McHenry County Department of Health did not respond to questions about whether anything else was done in regards to the complaints made against the business.
"We try to respond quickly to all complaints, particularly any associated with illness," the spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. "We will continue to evaluate our procedures and responses and make any necessary changes accordingly."
Ultimately, three workers tested positive and seven other employees were tested and all returned negative results, Arroyave said.