With his father at home undergoing chemotherapy and customers coming in unmasked, Geri Lynn Nissan employee Christopher Crawford said he felt uncomfortable selling cars during the coronavirus pandemic.
So in April, Crawford approached the Houma, La., dealership's general manager about his concerns and asked to go home without pay. What unfolded from there resulted in Crawford losing his job, a social media storm and an online backlash against Geri Lynn Nissan and its owner.
At the center of the turmoil was a document Crawford said he was asked by dealership managers to sign. Along with changes in employment terms, the form included a line employees had to initial that read: "I work at my own risk. I realize I may become ill with COVID-19 (coronavirus) or any other illness." Crawford didn't sign the form.
The form didn't come up during his dismissal, he said. He was just told the dealership had to lay him off.
"I sat on it for a couple days, and it just, it ate me up," Crawford told Automotive News. "I kept looking at the note and talking to a couple people. And on the way out, I [said], if I have to be the one to say something about it ... I will."
Thousands of people across Facebook and other social media sites such as Twitter and Reddit heard what Crawford had to say after his April 17 Facebook post went viral.
Dealership owner Geri Lynn scrambled to react, and the subsequent back-and-forth between Crawford and his supporters and Geri Lynn Nissan supporters turned ugly fast.
The episode is a lesson about what can be at stake for dealers as they navigate how to manage employees during a dangerous and unprecedented disease outbreak.
Crawford's concerns about working closely with others in the time of the coronavirus aren't unique. As cases and deaths have spread across the U.S., several dealership employees have reached out to Automotive News and other media or shared on social media their fears about getting sick or bringing the virus home to their families.