One of my employees has been vocal about the coronavirus being a hoax. I had to have a talk with him during our last few days in the office at the end of March because he was openly criticizing and mocking coworkers for "being afraid of the flu" and practicing social distancing. While the rest of us isolated and worked at home, he went on two different vacations out of the state and did not isolate upon returning as required.
We're now phasing people back into the office, and he believes that all of the safety guidelines are violating his freedom. He still won't practice social distancing without being told, he will not wear a mask without being told, and he even planned another vacation when the company has asked us not to travel except in the case of emergencies. …
I am at an absolute loss regarding how to get this employee to take these safety precautions seriously when he still sees the coronavirus as a political issue instead of a public health issue. I am very worried that he will bring the virus into the office and get others sick. Do you have any advice for handling this employee and protecting the rest of my staff?
Alison suggests that this employer "should be prepared to fire him." I couldn't agree more, and would go one step further and just say that this employer should fire him, period.
COVID-19 is not a hoax, it's a public health emergency. There are rules businesses must follow as a condition to reopen and stay open during this pandemic, including the maintenance and enforcement of certain basic safety guidelines such as social distancing and face masks. If an employee is refusing to follow these rules for any reason, that employee is putting the health and safety of the business's employees, customers, other visitors, and their family members at risk. That employee has no place remaining employed. If you've counseled and warned and the behavior hasn't changed, you've done all you can do.
If, as Alison suggests in her answer, you want to offer the employee one final warning, I'm okay with that. This employer, however, has done everything it can to secure compliance with its safety rules, and the employee has still failed to comply. If the employee genuinely believes that COVID-19 is a hoax and that safety rules are "violating his freedom," nothing an employer says or does will change his mind or secure compliance. It will be a constant battle against an employee who refuses to believe science and do what is necessary to protect himself and others. I see little choice other than pulling the plug, terminating the employee, and letting him take his backward and dangerous thinking elsewhere.