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Sodexo employees allegedly encouraged to ignore COVID safety protocols

Some Sodexo employees on campus are complaining they have been encouraged to work while sick due to staffing shortages, and that their concerns have been ignored by higher-ups.

Sodexo is the company contracted by NMSU to provide students and staff with food and dining services throughout campus.

One Sodexo employee, who asked not to be identified, said she tested positive for COVID-19, but was encouraged to keep working despite feeling ill for several days. “[Management] said that I needed to be at work, and for me to just take ibuprofen and drink Gatorade,” she said. Despite requesting time off to go to a doctor’s office and potentially get tested, her managers repeatedly told her that she had to keep working since they were so understaffed.

After several days of body aches, headaches and other COVID-19 symptoms, the employee was able to get tested, but only after lying to her manager claiming that she needed to pick up her daughter from school. Once she did get tested, she was questioned by management as to how she knew of her positive diagnosis since she was supposed to only be picking up her daughter and returning to work.

Students sit in the food court at the Corbett Center Student Union, a popular spot to eat on campus. (Photo by Javier Gallegos/Kokopelli)

Another Sodexo employee claims that staff are no longer encouraged to sanitize surfaces once customers leave a dining area, and that COVID safety is hardly even discussed anymore. “There is no talk of sanitizing, but we do it on our own. [Managers] haven’t brought over any equipment, PPE, any of that. They never talk about it. Nothing,” the employee said.

When asked about these reports of potentially unsafe work practices, Associate Director of NMSU Dining Services, Ryan Vanderwall, said in a written statement that Sodexo is committed to the health and safety of its employees. “Sodexo@NMSU Dining Services is 100% aligned with NMSU’s pandemic action plan. Sodexo has proactively managed the impacts of COVID-19 with a focus on the safety and health of our employees, clients, consumers and the well-being of the communities we serve,” Vanderwall stated.

Another Sodexo employee, who also asked not to be identified, is reportedly immunocompromised. Sodexo managers allegedly told this employee to still interact with and serve customers, even if they are not wearing a mask. According to NMSU’s own pandemic action plan, “everyone must wear a mask when indoors at any NMSU campus, site or office statewide, in accordance with New Mexico’s public health order.”

As that employee is immunocompromised, the employee felt it was dangerous to interact with students and staff who were not complying with statewide NMSU mask mandates. After the employee asked a student to please put on a mask in order to be served, a Sodexo manager reportedly instructed the employee not to deny service to anyone, regardless of whether customers are wearing a mask, and despite the health risks this creates for the employee.

When asked how Sodexo accommodates and protects its immunocompromised employees, Director of NMSU Dining Services Dwayne Wisniewski indicated he was unaware any of his employees are immunocompromised. “We don’t have anybody that’s immunocompromised, but if they were, they would have to get permission from the doctors to work in public,” Wisniewski said.

Vanderwall did address in a written statement the issue of having an understaffed team of employees, citing challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We know that this is a temporary situation, and we are always evaluating the needs of the operation and assigning resources as appropriate. Additionally, our human resources teams, along with our labor and frontline strategy teams, are actively working together to recruit and retain team members to serve our customers and make Sodexo the employer of choice on campus.  You can always contact us if you have any questions or concerns at 575-646-4801,” Vanderwall stated.

Are you a Sodexo employee at NMSU who has been encouraged to ignore established COVID-19 safety protocols? If so, Kokopelli would like to hear from you.

For more stories from this exclusive series on COVID safety at NMSU, click on the links below:

NMSU staff, students concerned campus may be unsafe

Some say testing, VaxTrax inadequate



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