At JacksonWhite Law, our hearts go out to those affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Along with worrying about the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones, Americans are wondering what impact the pandemic could have on their employment.
As businesses shut their doors in an effort to slow the rate of infection, some workers are being let go to cut costs. Still others are forced to work against their wishes, potentially increasing their chances of contracting the illness.
Recognizing that employment law can be confusing, we created this guide to understanding coronavirus as an employee. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about protecting your rights as a member of the workforce.
Q: What Obligations Does Your Company Have to Employees Under Government-Imposed Quarantine?
According to the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WDH), employers are encouraged to support workers during State, Federal, or local quarantine isolation. Along with being flexible with scheduling, companies should strive to offer options like remote work and additional PTO.
Qualifying Reasons for Leave Related to COVID-19
An employee is entitled to take leave related to COVID-19 if the employee is unable to work, including unable to telework, because the employee:
- is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19
- has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19
- is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis
- is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2)
- is caring for his or her child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons
- is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Q: Can Employers Require Employees to Work Remotely?
Federal law dictates that companies may ask or instruct employees to work from home during a pandemic.
Q: Can Employees Legally Stay Home to Avoid Contracting COVID-19?
According to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees who are sick with the flu or another serious health condition have the right to take leave from their jobs. Workers are also permitted to stay home to care for a seriously ill loved one.
At this time, the FMLA does not protect employees who opt to stay home to avoid exposure to an illness or pandemic. However, laws surrounding this issue are changing rapidly. Talk to an attorney for the latest information on employment laws and regulations.
Q: Which Employees Qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act Leave?
Workers at qualified employers are eligible to take leave if they meet the following criteria:
- Have worked for their current company for a year or more
- Have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the past 12 months
- Work at a location with 50 or more employees
Q: Can Your Employer Send You Home if You Show Signs of Illness?
Many employees are concerned about their ability to stay safe at work during the current crisis. In some cases, employers may ask workers showing signs of illness to leave the office until they recover. Whether or not you receive paid leave during this period will depend on various factors, including your company’s sick leave policy, applicable employment contracts, and any collective bargaining agreements that are in place.
While companies may ask workers to leave the office during a pandemic, they’re prohibited from enforcing these decisions in a way that violates the laws governing workplace discrimination. In other words, employers can’t bar workers from the office based on race, sex, age, religion, disability, or veteran status.
Q: How Does Federal Law Affect Layoffs During a Pandemic?
Businesses are not legally prohibited from laying off their employees during a pandemic. However, they do have to adhere to federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, age, and other protected classes.
It’s worth noting that companies are not allowed to discriminate against or terminate an eligible employee who has requested FMLA leave.
Q: What Should You Do If You’ve Been Laid Off?
Depending on the state in which you live, your employer may be required to provide immediate payment of your final check. If you’ve been laid off, don’t hesitate to request these funds.
Q: What Should You Do If You Believe You’ve Been Wrongfully Terminated?
The uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic extends to the world of employment law. If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated because of COVID-19, or for another reason, it’s important to take steps to protect your rights.
Start by keeping a record of all communication between you and your former employer, including emails and texts. Whenever possible, ask that the company relay messages in writing instead of by phone. This information is crucial for building a case against the company in question. Additionally, employees pursuing wrongful termination cases should be aware that the company can use any information found in an employee’s desk or on their computer as evidence against them.
Finally, employees who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic shouldn’t hesitate to seek legal representation. Contacting an attorney early on is the best way to protect yourself and safeguard your family’s future.
Contact JacksonWhite Law for Legal Support
One of Arizona’s leading experts in employment law, JacksonWhite Law has the knowledge and experience needed to handle a wide range of cases involving overtime pay, sexual harassment, and wrongful termination, among other issues. We understand that losing your job can be a traumatic and stressful event.
Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.
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