Tesla orders factory workers to come to work in spite of shelter in place directive

Tesla will continue to keep its Fremont, Calif., factory open for production, because it has had “conflicting guidance from different levels of government” over whether it could operate during a shelter in place order in Alameda County, according to an email sent to employees Wednesday by the company’s human resources department.

The human resources department told employees to come to work if their job is to produce, service, deliver or test its electric vehicles, in spite of an order from Alameda County to shelter in place, which requires all non-essential businesses to close, including bars, gyms and dine-in restaurants because of the global spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by the coronavirus.

Tesla and officials with Alameda County could not be reached for comment. TechCrunch will update the article with any responses.

Tesla‚Äôs factory and a number of its other facilities are located in and around Fremont, which is within Alameda County. The email was sent after the Alameda County Sheriff declared that the Tesla factory is “not an essential business” and the company should follow the shelter in place directive.

It appears based on conversations with other Tesla employees that the company isn’t planning to shut down production any time soon, putting it in direct conflict with the county. One employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that they were told to continue to expect to deliver vehicles from the Fremont factory.

The email sent Wednesday to employees from human resources reads:

We still do not have final word from the city, county, state and federal government on the status of our operations. We have had conflicting guidance from different levels of government.

Until then, we are operating with essential employees only while all others are working from home and working to incorporate all CDC guidelines into our operations.

There are no changes in your normal assignment and you should continue to report to work if you are in an essential function: production, service, deliveries, testing and supporting groups as discussed with your manager. If you are not assigned to support an essential function, your manager might suggest a temporary relocation to support essential functions, or you may need to be on call.

If you are not feeling well, please stay at home and use PTO. If your PTO balance is low, you can borrow up to 80 hours (2 weeks) after you exhaust your PTO balance. Please inform your manager and follow the normal procedures for sick time.

Other employees who reached out to Tesla’s HR department with concerns about continuing to come to work received responses that largely followed the email above, with a few more details.

In one email shared with TechCrunch, an employee was told that if they could not or were reluctant to come to work they could use PTO or take unpaid time off after they exhaust their PTO. The email told the employee that they would be not be penalized for their decision or face disciplinary action for attendance based on health or impossibility to come to work.

One employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that sales people can work from home on a case-by-case base. Employees who deliver Tesla vehicles will still need to come to work and are being told to deliver the vehicles directly to customers’ homes.

Tesla employs more than 10,000 people at its Fremont factory, according to its website. On most days, the factory is packed with workers building its electric vehicles, a portfolio that includes the Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Model Y.

The directive is counter to actions taken by other automakers in the U.S., none of which are located in counties that have called for shelter in place. Honda said Wednesday it would shut down all 12 of its U.S. plants for six days starting March 23 due to a decline in demand caused by COVID-19.

United Auto Workers formed a task force with GM, Ford and FCA to help protect workers and lessen the spread of COVID-19. The autoworker’s union urged the automakers to shut down its factories temporarily. The UAW said Wednesday that the automakers have agreed to new measures that will increase adherence to CDC recommendations on social distancing in the workplace.

The three automakers agreed to implement a rotating partial shutdown of facilities, initiate deep cleaning of facilities and equipment between shifts, extend periods between shifts and enact extensive plans to avoid member contact.

“They will be working on shift rotation to minimize risk, the UAW said in an update on its website. “The companies have also agreed to work with us in Washington, D.C., on behalf of our members as we manage the disruption in the industry.”

Update: Ford has said it will shut down all of its North American factories through March 30.