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‘Do not report to work’: El Paso employees grapple with dilemma of working while sick or losing pay

Restaurant workers on the job during the virus era.

EL PASO, Texas -- Quarantine and lose pay, or work to put food on the table?

It's a scenario many El Pasoans may find themselves in during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One El Paso woman's interaction with her husband sheds light on a likely factor contributing to the sharp increase of coronavirus cases in the community.

Michelle Russ tested positive for Covid-19 at the end of October.

But her husband initially refused to inform his employer about his exposure to the highly contagious virus.

"I know he felt this underlying fear that, 'They're gonna send me home. I'm not gonna get paid,'" Russ said in a video interview with ABC-7 from her home. "And yeah, we definitely had words. He did not want to say anything. And I told him, 'We cannot be part of the problem. We have to be part of the solution. And you have to tell them.'"

The City of El Paso has said about 60 percent of the cases come from retail and restaurants.

Many employees in those industries are deemed essential and are also hourly.

Workforce Solutions Borderplex in El Paso is hearing from employees and employers in situations similar to Russ'.

"Do not report to work," said CEO Leila Melendez. "If your employer takes an action, file for unemployment and let that process work itself through. And yes, if you cannot work because you are Covid-positive, you absolutely have access to unemployment benefits."

"My ultimate message to both of them is to tread cautiously," Melendez added. "Be mindful about what they're trying to do. Don't make a decision in a rush. Don't panic. Listen to each other."

Russ' husband told his employer about his exposure. She said his employer will pay him his base salary while he quarantines. While they both abstain from work, Russ said loved ones have brought her food and other items.

"It's hard to ask for help. It's hard for me to ask for help," Russ said. "But I think we need to come together as a community and take care of each other. Because I don't feel like anyone else is going to take care of us."

Melendez urges employees and employers to visit the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division website to find credible information about protections during the pandemic.

The CDC states anyone who has or thinks they have Covid-19 or has been exposed should stay home and isolate even if they are asymptomatic.

El Paso / Health / News / Top Stories / Video

Stephanie Valle

Stephanie Valle co-anchors ABC-7 at 5, 6 and 10 weeknights.



  1. Here’s this biggest problem people are going to have with this. You say just stay home and file unemployment and “let the process play out” but the problem is that with other situations it’s ok to flood the system and then complain about it taking too long. Yes i am speaking about illegal immigration, you’re almost rewarded for skirting those laws and given resources that you never contributed to. Meanwhile poor Russ who’s paid numerous taxes is screwed……start using tax dollars in Americans. Why isn’t Veronica Pleters office sending lawyers to this guys house to help him out in figuring out how to “let the process play out”

    1. Illegal immigration has nothing to do with any of it. Undocumented aliens are not eligible for any benefits other than emergency treatment in hospital emergency rooms.

      1. You are correct, this story doesn’t have anything to do with this story. But I think the point “Wake up” is making that billions of resources are spent on illegal immigration like hospital care and public schools.

        1. El Paso hospitals write off less than 2% of total write offs for undocumented immigrants. Actual cost for emergency medical care is almost nil. Costs for educating the very small numbers of immigrant children is about .08% of total costs in schools. If these costs are compared to the great contributions that these immigrants make to the nation it renders the argument absurd. Most of the objection to immigrants is racially motivated so its moot from the beginning. Only people still worried about immigrants are members of the KKK, the NeoNazis, Republicans, and white supremacists. Decent and true Americans have no problem with their taxes going to pay for these unbelievably tiny costs to help immigrants.

          1. Only .08% of El Paso students are illegals? That is completely false. You completely made that up like everything else you post here. Complete lies. I work in the schools. That number is close r to 10% and only includes the ones we know are undocumented. Most of them use false addresses and its illegal for us to ask.

          2. It’s not about immigrants. Its about criminals coming into the country illegally to do harm. I guarantee within the next 18 months of Illegimaiate Joe’s weak policies and foreign ass kissing we will have another foreign terrorist attack. They have nothing to fear now. They knew if they tried that crap under Trump he would annihilate them.

  2. its 100% about tax dollars and government resources being used for American tax payers. And yes I am aware that we spend billions into the military industry and it’s a problem as well and a couple other industries too

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