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RBC employees at a Toronto-area office tasked with handling a “massive” increase in calls from customers say they are not being allowed to work from home, their offices are crowded and shared equipment isn’t being sanitized between shifts, even though two of their co-workers have tested positive for COVID-19.
“We share computers, we share chairs, our desks are all squished in together,” Kinza Hanif, a former RBC adviser at the bank’s Meadowvale campus in Mississauga, Ont., told The Logic.
Employees at an RBC office in Mississauga, Ont. are on the front-lines of the bank’s virus response, handling tens of thousands of calls from customers concerned about their finances because of COVID-19. Workers at the office, where two employees have tested positive for the virus, are worried that computers aren’t always being cleaned between shifts and offices are crowded as the bank adds more overtime hours to keep up with demand.
Hanif left the bank last week for unrelated reasons, but as an RBC banking adviser, she was the first point of contact for customers calling with questions about their bank accounts or services, including loans and mortgages. RBC has seen a significant increase in those kinds of calls since it and the other members of Canada’s Big Six announced last week they would offer Canadians a variety of financial relief options including mortgage-payment deferrals for up to six months.
“In our Travel Rewards Call Centre, we can handle up to 3,500 calls per day. Last week, peak volumes were at more than 60,000 per day as we supported clients who needed to complete travel under increasingly limited borders,” said AJ Goodman, an RBC external communications director.
“And that’s just our travel call centre – nothing to say of the volumes we were experiencing at our general call centers, particularly after the hardship programs were announced on Wednesday.”
The increase appears to be sector-wide: Scotiabank received almost 80,000 calls per day last week; its mortgage and loan team saw a 500 per cent increase.
Hanif said she was working at Meadowvale on March 6 when the bank told staff a worker had tested positive for COVID-19, and employees who worked on the same floor had been sent home. RBC said it got confirmation that the employee had tested positive late in the evening on March 5 and moved quickly to alert employees. Hanif said she doesn’t understand why workers on her floor weren’t allowed to work from home.
“We share common spaces like the cafeteria and the elevators. There’s people coughing in the office, and when people say they feel unsafe and want to go home, managers say they can’t,” said Hanif.
Goodman said the company is following guidance from public health authorities and the government to keep workplaces clean.
“Under normal circumstances, cleaning staff do not clean technology (computers, monitors, keyboards, etc.) because it could be a liability for them around damage to equipment or the network,” said Goodman.
“During COVID, we are doing deep cleaning of high touch common areas like desks and … we’ve also asked our cleaning suppliers to disinfect technology as much as they can and, where they can’t, we’re working with them to provide employees with cleaning supplies when / where they need them.”
One current employee at the Meadowvale campus, whom The Logic agreed not to name because of their concerns about professional repercussions, said they’re not seeing any evidence of that.
“No one is cleaning the computers [between users]. At the start of every shift, I disinfect my desk, my computer and my chair, but I still feel really unsafe. We’re still having regular meetings with people crammed into conference rooms. On top of that, they used to clean up garbage cans at desks between shifts, and that’s not happening as regularly,” the employee said, adding that because the bank has added extra overtime hours for employees to help handle the increased call volume, the offices are even more crowded than usual.
“We are following guidance from public health authorities, government officials and feedback from employees to ensure we keep our workplaces clean and safe with appropriate social distancing,” said Goodman, adding that it’s possible that some advisers will be able to work from home.
“It’s not that work from home isn’t entirely doable for these employees. It’s just that there’s a larger consideration set we have to go through when determining work from home that includes, among other things, public health guidelines, technology considerations, client privacy, and a person’s own preference (for example, some may not want to work from home because they have roommates, some may not be able to because of their WiFi connection and some just want to be in the office),” said Goodman.
Hanif said she saw no reason why she couldn’t have worked from home with a laptop and a cellphone.
“Many senior RBC employees are working from home right now. At Meadowvale, managers have their own offices, but junior employees on the floor are working in these big, open-air spaces, responding to call after call and being put at risk.”
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