As the world experimented with working from home, U.S. energy firm Phillips 66 Co PSX.N went the other way: it imposed a “work-from-work” policy for staff at its Houston headquarters in May even as the city became a hot spot for the pandemic.
After a brief spike in COVID-19 cases in July, Phillips 66 avoided a major outbreak while remaining nearly fully staffed at its 1.1 million-square-foot Houston campus. The policy also put the company’s white-collar workers on the same footing as refinery staff who were unable to work from home due to the nature of their jobs. Phillips 66 told its employees it hoped to pioneer a safe return to the office that would encourage others to do the same and drive a recovery in demand for gasoline, the company’s main product.
But the decision by the fourth-largest U.S. oil refiner has left some workers feeling bruised and has damaged their views of the company, according to five current and former employees. Those workers said they felt the company put them at risk by filling offices while the virus had yet to be contained and expressed concern that safety measures weren’t sufficiently enforced early on. They also expressed frustration that senior managers were kept safer through private elevators and offices, while many employees worked in open-plan spaces.
Cases of COVID-19 did increase among the company’s office workers and at one point the rate of recorded infections was almost twice that of the per capita rate of Harris County where the headquarters is based. On July 8, 24 headquarters employees were listed as active COVID-19 cases, or 1.04% of the building’s roughly 2,300 workers, according to internal company data reviewed by Reuters. The number of active COVID-19 cases that day in Harris County was at 0.55% of the population, according to state health data and a Reuters calculation.