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My boss in a senior living facility won’t get vaccinated and I’m furious

My supervisor is an anti-vaxxer with a medical exemption. How do I contain my anger at her for putting residents and colleagues at risk?

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Reader: I work at a senior living community. I was originally given the “opportunity” to apply for a supervisory position, with the caveat that I wouldn’t get it because management had decided an MBA was required. They hired a supervisor who is new to our industry, whom I have trained and handheld and made look good for the past 15 months.

But that's not my problem. The problem is that my new supervisor has refused to get the coronavirus vaccine. She says she doesn't want it, doesn't need it and won't get it. When our facility began requiring it, she found a doctor who gave her a medical exemption.

She has taken her child to a college in a rampantly anti-vaccine part of the country and has returned there to visit. She has had to quarantine at home after each trip, during which time I spend my days scanning documents that she needs and taking meetings in her absence.

I actually like this woman; she’s a lovely person. But I am furious at her for being so shortsighted and cavalier with our residents’ health; at my organization for not firing her as they fired the housekeepers and dining staff who refused vaccines; and at her frustration at being “made” to work from home during quarantines.

Now she’s back, and I cannot warm up to her because I’m so angry. And there’s no one to talk to about it because it sounds like sour grapes. How should I handle this?

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Karla: You and your supervisor are stand-ins for all of us, two years into the coronavirus pandemic. Some, like you, have taken every precaution their circumstances and medical science allow, hoping to make things a little safer for themselves and others. Meanwhile, others, like your supervisor, are rejecting all voluntary measures, gaming the system to avoid mandatory ones, then complaining when asked to make what they consider unnecessary accommodations to protect others from the potential consequences of their choices. As the latter dig their heels in, the former find their compassion and tempers running shorter than ever — especially in light of ever-emerging coronavirus variants, fluctuating guidance from leaders and authorities, and inadequate access to virus tests and other resources.

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Of course, I’m seeing your supervisor through the lens of someone who might resent her for reasons other than her stance on covid-19 prevention. And neither of us has firsthand knowledge of her medical status or the decisions that went into exempting and accommodating her. But even before vaccines were available, the medically at-risk people I know have willingly and gratefully availed themselves of every protective measure, never mind the inconvenience or discomfort. At this stage of the game, vaccine hesitancy can’t be attributed to a lack of testing data, and medical reasons for avoiding vaccines are relatively rare. So I would question your description of her as a “lovely person.” Maybe she’s “nice,” but that’s not the same as “thoughtful” or “kind” or “good.”

But my armchair assessment of her character won’t change anything. You still can control only the same things you could two years ago — namely, whether you stick with this job; what degree of effort you put into it; and what measures you take to protect yourself and others.

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You presumably need this job for income. Shirking your duties would jeopardize the job and possibly your residents’ well-being; relaxing your antiviral vigilance would jeopardize all of the above. When you’re battling burnout from all these obligations, something has to give. That being the case, I suggest you not worry about generating even a nano-joule of warmth for your supervisor.

Some minimum decorum is required when working closely with someone you’ve lost respect for. Fortunately, the pandemic provides ample justification for holding her at a literal and figurative distance. To wit:

You’re not cold — you’re conscientious. “I’m so paranoid about spreading the coronavirus, I’m treating everyone as a potential vector, including myself. Do you mind if we spread out a bit?”

You’re not abrasive — you’re anxious. “I apologize for snapping earlier — I’ve been so stressed out lately about the pandemic. Can you imagine if we had an outbreak here?”

And back up a minute: What if you decided not to stick with the job? Many employers are opting to cultivate their own dream candidates by offering tuition assistance and sponsoring professional certifications. If a position requires experience, integrity and an MBA, surely some hiring managers in your field would prefer a candidate who comes with the first two requirements pre-installed and is willing to pursue the third.

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