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COVID 19 - Employee Rights

What Rights Do Workers Have in the Coronavirus Pandemic?

The coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic is bringing uncertainty to every family and every worker in America.

As the nation rushes to combat this pandemic, you’re not the only one worried about your health and job security. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides excellent guidelines for protecting your health. But what can you do to protect your job? In these uncertain times, it pays to know your rights.

Every day, I speak to clients who are worried about their jobs and need help navigating COVID-19 workplace challenges. Georgia is a right-to-work state, which means that your employer can end your job at any time, just as you can resign whenever you wish. Although there are no specific laws that safeguard employee rights during a pandemic, existing laws can protect you from workplace discrimination or wrongful termination. Here are just a few of my clients’ frequently asked questions.

A co-worker tested positive for the coronavirusdo I still have to go to work?

If you decide to stop working because your co-worker tests positive for COVID-19, or even if you suspect they have it, you can lose your job. Not showing up for three days or more gives your employer the right to consider your absence a voluntary resignation. Since you yourself are not sick, your absence would not be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Also, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to viruses or flus. So, in this situation, you would have forfeited your job. Reach out to me if you’re concerned about the coronavirus outbreak at your job.

Am I eligible for worker’s compensation if I get COVID-19 on the job?

Probably not, since it would be difficult to determine where you contracted the virus. You could have picked it up on a mailbox, at the coffee shop, or just about anywhere. So, unless you’re a first responder or healthcare worker, it may be difficult to prove that you contracted COVID-19 on the job. If you want to discuss your specific situation, give me a call.

What should I do if I’m treated differently because I’m older or have a chronic health condition?

Many believe that people under 60 and those in good health have greater resistance to COVID-19. Nevertheless, employers should not treat older or less healthy workers differently. For example, if your employer reduces the number of shifts and assigns work to only the younger workers, they may be unfairly excluding older workers. If you’re experiencing a situation like this, give me a call.  

Is my employer obliged to keep the workplace clean?

It’s your employer’s responsibility to provide a safe work environment—and during the COVID-19 pandemic, they should be even more proactive in keeping the workplace extra clean and sanitized. Many employers have increased the frequency of cleaning or have shut down operations to sanitize their facilities. They’ve also encouraged social distancing and have (according to CDC guidelines) sent workers exhibiting COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms home. If your employer is not taking reasonable steps to provide a safe, clean work environment, speak to your manager or human resources representative as a first line of defense. If no action is taken, feel free to give me a call.

If I get the coronavirus and have no sick leave, do I have to stop working?

If you’re not feeling well and have a fever, you should stay home. In fact, if you’re showing symptoms, you might be asked to go home, regardless if you have sick leave or not. You may qualify for unemployment benefits, which can help you pay the bills during your 14-day COVID-19 quarantine. Check the Georgia Department of Labor’s website to see if you qualify.

 Can I be fired for taking sick leave or staying home to take care of my kids?

If you take time off to recover from COVID-19 or take care of your kids, you may have the right to be reinstated at your job and receive paid leave. Recent changes to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provide safeguards based on the size of an employer’s workforce. If your job employs fewer than 500 people, you can take up to 12 weeks of leave if you’re unable to work or telework because you have to care for a child under 18 due to a school closure or lack of child care as a result of COVID-19. Your first 10 days of emergency FMLA leave can be unpaid leave, but the law requires that your employer pay for each subsequent day of leave. The law provides specific guidelines on how your rate of pay is calculated, specifying that the amount cannot exceed $200 per day and $10,000 in aggregate.

Employers with fewer than 25 employees are exempt from providing paid leave if your position is eliminated due to economic conditions or other circumstances that affect the business operations as a result of the coronavirus public health emergency.

If you need help interpreting FMLA, give me a call so we can figure out how it relates to your situation.

Let’s Discuss Your Rights

The coronavirus is having a definite impact on the workplace. I’m here to help you understand your legal rights so you’re empowered to protect your livelihood during these difficult times. Reach out to me to discuss your unique situation.