The risk for contracting COVID-19 remains high for all employees within AbbVie, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, as it limits worksite COVID-19 testing to “employees” only, excluding contractors and temps working on-site in the same facility.
AbbVie is offering free rapid 20-minute testing at its North Chicago facility, a location where the company is working on developing COVID-19 therapeutics. When requesting a screening, individuals must certify that they are internal employees on this form:
As reported by a temporary worker in that facility, “there is a large number of temp-ed out clerical staff, facilities maintenance contractors, construction contractors and subcontracted scientific staff on site at any given time.” These workers are all excluded from this precaution despite working side-by-side AbbVie employees.
In an announcement published on the drugmaker’s website, the company provides a list of strategies to protect employees from COVID-19 without mentioning non-employees in their workplaces.
This type of policy should not only alarm temp workers, but permanent staff and policymakers as well. Temp workers and their families are put at greater risk without access to free testing. This endangers all people in workplaces where permanent employees are blended with contingent workers. Unlike benefits like health insurance, retirement contributions, or performance incentives, the virus is shared equally, regardless of employment status.
Beyond the risk to individuals, exclusionary policies like AbbVie’s contribute to racial disparities in COVID-19 infection and fatality rates. A recent study of demographic data from Illinois revealed that temporary laborers are more than 2.5x more likely to be African-American and Latinx than the overall workforce. Therefore, “employee only” safety policies may contribute to the unequal burden that communities of color are enduring.