COVID-19 Brings New Employment Law Questions
Posted on Monday, March 30th, 2020
What are your rights as an employee?
Monday, March 30, 2020 – Less than a month after coronavirus shuttered businesses and began inundating healthcare providers, new legal questions surrounding the virus have begun to arise. Questions about liability, discrimination against Asian or disabled employees, and retaliation against employees who have filed workers’ compensation claims due to coronavirus illness are just a few of the confusing topics we’ve been asked about.
If you believe your rights have been violated, we encourage you to seek legal advice. Please be aware that U.S. laws and enforcement procedures are changing due to the declaration of national emergency. What’s true today may not be true tomorrow. Below are current answers to some of the most common questions:
My employer has cut my hours, forced me to take unpaid leave, or terminated my employment because of coronavirus. Is there anything I can do?
Unfortunately, many employers have had to make difficult decisions due to the economic impact of COVID-19. If you were treated differently than other employees due to a disability, race, religion, or ethnicity, you may be eligible for compensation. If you were not discriminated against, you may file a claim for unemployment insurance benefits and may be eligible for federal supplements passed in March.
I work as a delivery driver, in a nursing care facility, or in another career that puts me at risk for exposure, and I contracted coronavirus. I do not feel that my employer took proper measures to protect me. What can I do?
Unfortunately, because of the scope of this pandemic, proving that you contracted the coronavirus from your workplace and not from somewhere else is difficult, and will likely not meet the requirements for proximate cause in court. You may be eligible for workers’ compensation, but even then, causation will be difficult to prove. You will still likely be eligible for paid sick leave, including two additional weeks if your employer has under 500 employees.
I have a compromised immune system or a disability or condition that puts me at high risk for complications or death due to coronavirus. Is my employer required to provide reasonable accommodations?
If you have a medical condition that puts you at greater risk for complications due to COVID-19, your employer may be required to take reasonable measures, such as allowing you to telecommute, to accommodate you. Also, if you get sick and develop complications, such as pneumonia, you may be eligible for disability benefits. Talk with your employer and/or your human resources director for information specific to your situation.
I have symptoms or have tested positive for coronavirus. Can my employer share that information with anyone?
No. Your employer is required by law to keep any and all medical information about specific individuals confidential. He or she can tell other staff members or customers that an employee has tested positive, but may not share details about who you are.
I have a cough or other symptoms of coronavirus, but I don’t think I have it. Can my employer send me home?
Yes. According to the CDC, your employer should separate you from other employees and send you home immediately.
I have tested positive for coronavirus and cannot work. What can I do for income while I am sick?
If you have accrued paid sick days, you may use them during your illness. Also, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act now mandates that employers with fewer than 500 employees provide an additional two weeks of paid sick leave if you or a close family member develops COVID-19. You may also be eligible for disability insurance. Check with your human resources department or your state department of labor for requirements. Finally, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, including medical treatment and short-term disability benefits if you contracted coronavirus during the course of your job.
Can I be fired for missing work due to coronavirus?
Your employer cannot retaliate against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim or for using paid sick days due to coronavirus. Beginning April 2, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act will require employers with under 500 employees to provide up to two weeks of additional paid sick leave if an employee misses work due to coronavirus — whether they become ill or they are caring for an ill family member. Also, you may be eligible for additional time off in many states due to temporary disability or family paid leave. Check your state’s requirements on their Department of Labor website.
I am Asian or from another country outside of the United States. My employer treated me differently due to COVID-19. What can I do?
Employers who make statements or single you out because of national origin, race, or ethnicity are in violation of the law, regardless of whether or not there is a national emergency. Contact OnderLaw at 314-963-9000 if you have experienced discrimination in the workplace.
My state has a shelter-in-place order but my employer is requiring that I go to work. Can I be fired? What are my options?
You may be eligible for paid sick days or unpaid leave. After April 2, if your employer has fewer than 500 employees, you are entitled to two weeks of paid sick days for government-mandated shelter-in-place orders, as well as to care for sick family members or to use if you’re sick yourself.
Beyond paid sick days, if your healthcare provider verifies that you have an underlying health condition and should not work due to the threat of COVID-19 or any other reason, you can apply for state disability insurance. If your employer fires you for not coming to work, it will not affect your SDI eligibility.
If you quit your job due to coronavirus fears, you may still be eligible to receive unemployment insurance if you can prove that you had good cause, which can include reasonable fear for your safety, and that you took steps to try to work it out with your employer, such as requesting paid sick days or leave before you quit.
If you are fired for not coming to work in compliance with a shelter-in-place order, you may have a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Contact OnderLaw at 314-963-9000 for a free, no-obligation consultation.
If you believe you have been treated unfairly, wrongfully terminated, or have contracted coronavirus after being put at undue risk, contact OnderLaw at 314-963-9000. We will provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation and determine if you have a case.