Pandemic payroll

Teenage workers navigate shifting pandemic protocols


Sophomore Emily Oliver welcomes customers to Long Doggers in Satellite Beach during her hostess shift.

Junior Austin Ponder arrives to work at the Downtown Produce Market and immediately slips on his mask. He wipes down his register, preparing for another day of working during a global pandemic. Throughout his day, Ponder has to sanitize his hands after helping each customer. He can take off his mask only during breaks and must wash his hands before returning to the register. Before he leaves, Ponder sanitizes his register once again.

Due to the pandemic, workplaces across the country have implemented new guidelines in order to protect customers and employees from contracting COVID-19. While Americans begin to return to restaurants and stores, some employees fear the dire impact this may have on them.

“The hardest thing for me while working is trying to keep myself safe especially when I am around so many people,” he said. “But the store does a good job of keeping everybody distanced and wearing a mask. I don’t want to expose myself or my friends and family to it at all.”

Ponder said he feels as if personal comfort isn’t as important when it comes to following COVID-19 regulations at work.

“The new rules aren’t very frustrating because it’s not hard to wear a mask and keep a distance from people even while working,” he said. “It’s important to keep everybody safe.”

Senior Elizabeth Beattie, who works at Long Doggers, said she feels more comfortable at work in terms of risk of COVID-19, due to the setting.

“My experience working during the pandemic has been pretty good,” Beattie said. “We are mainly an outside restaurant, so being able to keep our doors open and have most of our tables outside has made me feel a little more safe compared to if I were to work in a normal restaurant.”

However, Beattie said she still feels nervous in her work environment.

“I don’t really think about it during my shift, but whenever I start to feel a little sick I get curious if it’s from work and then over-stress about it,” she said. “The customers don’t wear masks most of the time, and even though I am wearing a mask, it still puts me at risk. We also have to clean up after the customers and bus their tables with their used dishes and wipe down the places where they sat, which is a little bit worrying.”

Sophomore Emily Oliver, who also works at Long Doggers, said she isn’t as concerned.

“Personally, I am not too stressed about getting COVID-19 at work,” she said. “I am young, so even if I did get sick, I don’t think it would affect me too much. I wear a mask during my shifts as well.”

Student employees such as junior Lucas Goldfarb, who worked at Djons Village Market, said he has came across customers who refuse to wear masks.

“The hardest thing about working during a pandemic was dealing with customers who didn’t follow the mask-wearing and social-distancing policy while shopping,” Goldfarb said. “Most customers who walked in without a mask just forgot to put it on and happily took one of the extras that we provide for those who forgot theirs at home. I only ever had one or two people flatly refuse to wear a mask. I would just inform them that it was store policy and if they really didn’t want one then they needed to stay away from any other customers. Those people bothered me a little bit because it’s kind of inconsiderate, but I understand some find masks to be really uncomfortable.”

Ponder said he also had customers fail to follow proper store policies applying to COVID-19.

“We do have people every once in a while come in and not wear a mask and many of them apologize or say that they forgot,” he said. “But some people don’t really care to follow the rules and this frustrates me because it’s not helping anybody around them or helping the situation get better.”

The applied stress of the events of this year is amplified by work and can get difficult to handle at times; however, Ponder said he tries to stay optimistic.

“I try not to worry too much about the risk of getting COVID-19,” he said. “I focus on the good side of things, which is still being able to go to work and see my coworkers, who are my friends, and knowing that these new rules are helping. I keep myself safe and sanitize often to minimize my risk.”