Tesla continues operations despite a dwindling workforce and being told not to

Elon Musk thinks we're all over-reacting. We're worried he's under-reacting.

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There’s a new way Tesla Motors is unlike the rest of the auto industry: it’s still open for business. Tesla’s North America HR leader Valerie Workman told employees in an email on Wednesday they could still come into work, but they would not be docked performance review points if they stayed at home, CNBC reports. The email encourages "essential personnel" to continuing working which, in Tesla’s opinion, includes the production staff.

On the same day Ford, General Motors, and Fiat-Chrysler announced they will shut down all of their U.S. plants in a move that affects 25 facilities and 150,000 employees.

Musk isn’t taking coronavirus seriously — This latest Tesla news contributes to a pattern of defiant behavior during the rapid spread of COVID-19. On March 6, Musk tweeted “The coronavirus panic is dumb.” Ten days later, he seemed more interested in the development of vaccines and treatments, but doubled-down on his panic sentiments:

An Alameda County spokesperson told The Los Angeles Times on Monday that Tesla was an “essential business,” despite a six-county Bay Area “shelter-in-place” mandate. In a Monday night email, Musk encouraged workers to stay home if they were concerned, but wrote: “I will personally be at work, but that’s just me.” He also believes COVID-19 cases “will not exceed 0.1% of the population.” At least one employee expressed fear of retribution if they stayed home, supporting how Tesla’s stated culture can sometimes hide unsafe business practices.

Conflicting information — On Tuesday, a human resources email told Tesla employees they were exempt from shutdowns as a part of “National Critical Infrastructure,” but it would be enforcing social distancing. As a result, test drives in retail locations were authorized without a co-pilot and deliveries would also feature less interaction with Tesla representatives. Electrek also reported the company had no plans to alter business hours unless forced to do so.

On Tuesday night, Alameda County Sheriff’s office tweeted from its official account claiming that Tesla’s Fremont factory was an unessential business. The company would be allowed to conduct minimum basic operations. The already falling Tesla stock dropped an additional 5.3 percent after the news.

This brings us to today’s email where Workman accurately states Tesla has had “conflicting guidance from different levels of government.” Essential personnel expected to keep working include those in “production, service, deliveries, testing, and supporting groups,” but managers can assign nonessential workers to these teams.

Workman also encouraged those who are sick to use their paid time off and said they could borrow up to 80 additional hours. They could also take unpaid time off without consequences (except the obvious financial ones). CNBC previously reported that many concerned Tesla employees have already taken unpaid time off, which has stretched the job descriptions of — and demands on — those still working. Unlike many other tech companies, Tesla hasn't gone too far beyond its typical benefits in the wake of the pandemic. Whether it does go further will likely depend on what happens in the days and weeks to come.