The world has changed a lot this year, and the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented circumstances that have left many businesses reeling. Right now, many people are returning to work or looking for work, and they are facing a lot of new rules and guidelines from their employers.

 

 

If you’re working during the pandemic, you’re likely worried about exposure to COVID-19 and wondering about your rights when it comes to pandemic procedures. What can your employer require? What can’t they? We’re here to give you 8 things you need to know about working during the 2020 global pandemic.

 

1. Your company can require you to return to the office, but you may have options

If you’ve been working from home while your business offices were closed, you may be called to return to the workplace when they reopen. Employees generally have few legal rights when it comes to refusing to go to work if they want to keep their jobs. Even if you consider the workplace to be hazardous to your health, your employer has the right to fire you for not showing up.

In certain circumstances, though, you could be exempt from going to work. These circumstances include certain health conditions or being immunocompromised, which make you more susceptible to severe illness and possible death from COVID-19. If that’s the case, you could be entitled to continue working remotely under the ADA, which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for their workers.

You could also qualify for paid sick or family medical leave under the Families First stimulus legislation, which was passed explicitly for the 2020 pandemic.

2. Your company can require you to get tested for COVID-19 before returning to work

The EEOC has determined that coronavirus testing is a necessary measure to track and prevent the spread of this illness in the workplace. If your employer feels the same way, they can require workers to take a test to check for active COVID-19 cases.

They cannot, however, require you to take a coronavirus antibody test, which shows whether you have had and fought the virus in your immune system in the past. The EEOC ruled that requiring antibody tests is a violation of the ADA’s protection against medical examinations that are unrelated to your job or unnecessary for business practices.

3. Your employer has the right to ask you to disclose locations you’ve visited

The CDC has advised that all people traveling to COVID-19 hot spots should self-isolate for at least a few days (sometimes up to two weeks) upon returning. This means your employer can ask where you went on a personal trip to determine if it’s safe for you to be at work. Some state guidelines may also require your employer to enforce quarantine guidelines for workers who recently traveled in high-risk areas or outside the country.

4. Your employer is allowed to take your temperature when you arrive at work

Under “normal” circumstances, taking an employee’s temperature would have been considered a medical examination, which violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA protects workers from discrimination due to medical conditions.

However, an employee with the coronavirus poses a direct threat to their colleagues, clients, and customers. Therefore, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined that taking temperatures during the pandemic is a necessary measure to help protect workers and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

 

If you develop symptoms while you are at work that will impair your performance or put your coworkers in danger, your boss can send you home. This was true before the pandemic, and it’s still true now.

5. Your company has a right to make face masks mandatory

Unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from or religious objection to wearing a face covering, your company can require you to wear a mask and other personal protective equipment (PPE) at work. If your employer has deemed PPE necessary, then they have the right to require you to wear it at work.

If you have a medical condition, such as an allergy to PPE materials, that prevents you from being able to wear the company-provided PPE, the ADA gives you a right to reasonable accommodations by your employer. Even if a face mask itself if not a viable option for you, there are alternative PPE options that can help protect you and your coworkers, and your employer can require you to use one of those.

6. Your employer can ask about your symptoms, but only concerning COVID-19

If you call out sick or go home early due to an illness, you have certain protections that prevent your employer from asking about your symptoms and diagnosis. However, the EEOC has decided that employers can ask about your symptoms only if they are associated with the coronavirus to determine if you are at risk of having it and if you therefore may have exposed others as well.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include shortness of breath, sore throat, cough, fever, and chills.

7. Your company can require you to stay home if you have symptoms of COVID-19

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and EEOC have released guidelines that allow an employer to force workers to stay home if they present symptoms of the coronavirus. This is seen as a necessary step in protecting other employees and preventing the spread of the disease and has always been the case when it came to illness in the workplace.

If you develop symptoms while you are at work that will impair your performance or put your coworkers in danger, your boss can send you home. This was true before the pandemic, and it’s still true now.

8. Your employer does not have the right to ask about underlying conditions

For everything your company has a right to require, this is not one of them. Your boss may be concerned about whether their employees have certain health conditions that put them at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19.

However, the EEOC says they cannot ask you to disclose medical information, due to protections put in place by the ADA. Some workers may be treated differently due to their condition, so it is up to your discretion to reveal any underlying conditions that make you more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

 

Mr. Angueira is an accomplished senior trial lawyer at Swartz & Swartz, P.C., who has obtained record breaking results for his clients. He was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1982 and the New York Bar in 1983. He specializes Employment Litigation, Medical Malpractice, Product Liability, Discrimination, Whistle Blower and False Claims.

 

 

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