Return to Work: What are Employees’ Rights?

What Are Your Employee Rights When Businesses Re-Open Post-Pandemic?

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought with it many uncertainties. This was evident when the virus first hit the U.S. and people didn’t know how to properly respond. After a few months of adjustment, policies have been ironed out so different entities can continue their operations with a proper pandemic response in place.

Among these entities are businesses. When the pandemic started rapidly spreading and states issued stay-at-home orders, organizations immediately pivoted by making their staff work from home. But now that the stay-at-home orders have been lifted in most states, businesses have started planning for the “new normal,” which includes welcoming employees back into the workplace.

Of course, plenty of employees are still wary about working in the office because the threat of COVID-19 is still present. If you’re an employee facing the same dilemma, it’s best to know what your rights are.

Below, employment law experts, Miller & Steiert, P.C., answers some of the most common questions people have about their rights as employees amid a pandemic.

Does an employer have an obligation to their employee during a pandemic?

Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, employers must provide a safe environment for their staff. Recently, the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) issued a non-binding guidance that outlines employers’ responsibilities toward their employees regarding COVID-19. This guide also classifies employees into exposure risks and what employers should do with them.

Low Exposure Risk Employees

Employers must follow these steps to address employees who have minimal contact with the public:

  • Come up with a plan to adequately respond to the disease
  • Prepare prevention measures
  • Establish policies on identifying and isolating sick employees

Medium Exposure Risk Employees

Employers must follow these steps to address employees whose work requires contact with the public:

  • Provide employees with personal protective equipment
  • Install physical barriers between employees and the public
  • Limit the public’s direct access to employees

High Exposure Risk Employees

High to Very High Exposure Risk Employees are typically those working in the medical sector, so this doesn’t often apply to regular workplaces. Nevertheless, employees who have had contact with a COVID-19 positive person may be considered high exposure risk. If this happens, employers must:

  • Follow general COVID-19 guidelines
  • Isolate employees with known or suspected cases of COVID-19
  • Offer medical monitoring of employees

Can an employee file a complaint against their employer because of COVID-19?

If you feel like your workplace is unsafe or doesn’t have policies in place to protect employees from the pandemic, the first thing you should do is to tell your employer. This can be through your manager or a staff from your workplace’s Human Resources. This way, you can let them know of your concerns and request that they address it.

If your workplace refuses or fails to do this, you must document all the unsafe practices you’re noticing. Once you have documentary evidence, you can file a complaint with the OSHA in your state.

Can an employee refuse to go to work if they feel the office is unsafe because of COVID-19?

An employee doesn’t have the legal right to refuse to go to work or choose to work from home. But because the COVID-19 situation is new, there might be some exceptions.

For example, if you have an underlying condition that puts you at a higher risk of contracting the virus, you may have a right to refuse to go to work or work from home instead. The same is true if you could show that going to work will pose a serious risk of exposure to the virus and your employer did nothing to address this problem.

Can an employer fire an employee if they miss work because of COVID-19?

Federal laws protect employees who cannot report to work because of a serious health condition. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act or (ADA) prohibits discrimination against employees with disabilities. If you have an underlying condition that was exacerbated because you caught COVID-19, it may be considered a disability, which means you cannot be fired for it.

Will an employee be paid if they had to take time off due to COVID-19?

A federal law was passed in March 2020, which gives employees who are ill, quarantined, or being treated for COVID-19, two weeks of paid sick leave. This type of paid leave applies to eligible employees of small and medium-sized businesses and non-profit organizations.

Protect Your Rights at the Workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic may have brought many uncertainties, but your rights as an employee should be clear to you. If you have employment issues, such as discrimination or wrongful termination, let Miller & Steiert, P.C.’s employment lawyers help.

Consult with one of our employment attorneys by calling 303-798-2525 today.

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