COVID-19 and Family Separation From Work

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about quitting work in a family restaurant.

For a little over two years I worked at a local restaurant owned by my cousin. I worked alongside other family members while working there as well, so we became pretty close through the years. Due to a recent COVID-19 incident at the restaurant, for my health and my immediate families health I decided to take two weeks off, even though that was not mandatory, but I thought that was the safest option. During those two weeks I went back and forth with my family on what I wanted to do in terms of employment there. My family and I decided my safest option would be to quit working at the restaurant. I called my boss and explained to him my concerns and what I thought the best option for me and my family would be and that I personally did not feel safe working in a restaurant during this time. He was very understanding towards the situation and told me to do what I thought was best for me and my family.
I was very relieved on how the conversation went but I was still a little concerned on the family matter of things. My question is to you, what is the best way to separate family and working matters? I am trying to avoid the awareness, if there is any, next time I see them either at a family event or possibly at my old job. Signed–Covid-19 and Family

Dear Covid-19 and Family:
You have experienced one of the difficult realities of this pandemic. Protecting your own and your immediate family’ health motivated you to quit a job in a restaurant owned by a cousin. You had grown close to your extended family there. You say quitting was “due to a recent COVID-19 incident at the restaurant.”  And now despite the understanding acceptance of you quitting by the cousin owner, you feel uneasy to face those relatives again.  

Apparently, the restaurant owner also had to make a difficult decision–an economic one that could risk his family and others’ employed income. The governor also has had to make difficult decisions–to whether to close schools, theaters, bars, restaurants and risk thousands of owners and employee’s income; to not close them risks spreading Covid-19.

You have learned decisions that pit work and family have no simple compromise nor is choosing one over the other clearly right. I assume in your case, you quitting won’t seriously damage your own or your family’s money needed money for home and family health. Whereas, if you should bring Covid-19 into your home, that would. You ask, “what is the best way to separate family and working matters?” In this particular situation and in most others, there is no easy separation.

The approach our site takes to providing advice starts with suggestions to see the big picture and to describe the context that prompts the question. You have sketched that. The second step is for you to consider the options for resolving the uncertainty, the fog  that mystifies what are anticipated. In your situation, you express discomfort facing those you have worked with–the cousin and his family. What then are your options:

  1. Behave as if the separation from the cousin’s restaurant is silence. Living your own life and pushing aside feelings of guilt.
  2. Consult with consultants such as school psychologists, friends and mentors. One problem with this is turning to the convenient place rather than those with the most expertise.
  3. Confront your discomfort by informally contacting coworkers you were fond of at the r restaurant by avoiding the owner and family members.
  4. Reach out to the owner and family members. Acknowledge the guilt you feel for playing it safe by quitting. Admit there was no right answer and that your withdrawal put your and your family interests over the cousin’s. Ask them if you are welcome to contact them to prevent separation and silence become a thick wall  between you and their family.

The best you can do is to acknowledge the hurt you feel and to understand your quitting, even in this case endangering your own and family health, can be felt by them as rejection. A rational decision in this case did not erase emotional pain you feel and uneasiness you probably will  have at future extended family gatherings. Perhaps the best you can do is send a personally written note saying how much you enjoyed working in the restaurant and of how sad you are not working with the restaurant family. Wish them happiness, health and your hope this pandemic will soon be controlled. Walls inevitably grow from distance and silence. Say that you know the time will come when a happy reunion can be had with or without masks.  

An article on Covid-19 on the American Psychological Association site advises that we “Stay virtually connected with others. Your face-to-face interactions may be limited, but psychologists suggest using phone calls, text messages, video chat and social media to access social support networks. If you’re feeling sad or anxious, use these conversations as an opportunity to discuss your experience and associated emotions. Reach out to those you know who are in a similar situation.” 

This advice says reach out.
I trust these thoughts make some sense and you will consider these options and others that will occur. Days and weeks of separation silence is a decision in itself. I don’t recommend that. Weigh these thoughts and put your faith in nurturing the blessing of family and extended family. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that includes family.  -William Gorden