With the nation’s reaction to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, changing daily, the developments may leave many of us facing several unknowns especially when it comes to our workplace. As offices, stores, and job sites begin to decide on whether to close or remain open, many employees have no idea what their rights may be during this unprecedented pandemic. Whether you are being asked to work from home, report to work, stay put or are being laid off, you do have rights and many more that are being developed as we speak.

Does my employer have to let me work remotely?

This is a common concern and question for most employees. Generally speaking, if an employee has a disability, like a medical condition such as an auto immune deficiency or mental illness, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, that is aggravated by COVID-19, they are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and other state laws when requesting a reasonable accommodation such as working from home. Aside from providing a reasonable accommodation for those with disabilities, companies do not necessarily need to allow you to work from home. 

Even though implementations such as social distancing and working remotely have been suggested to help curb the spread of the virus, a company’s decision to allow employees to work from home will be based on their privacy protocols, system infrastructure and payroll practices. However, companies may soon be mandated by governmental restrictions to accommodate and allow working from home wherever possible.

If your employer is already allowing you to work from home, you should be seeing it applied to all employees equally. For example, if a company is only allowing employees who are 40 and older to work remotely, it may be violating the certain state and federal laws by requiring younger workers to show up.

What can I do about work if a family member or I get sick with COVID-19?

The United States House of Representatives has recently passed The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which if approved by the senate and signed into action by the president, could provide much needed relief to those individuals and families affected by the virus. This proposed Act will act as an amendment to the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) providing workers that work for companies that have fewer than 500 employees with 12 weeks of job protected leave under the FMLA on an emergency basis. To qualify for coverage you must fall into any of the following categories:

  • You have been required or recommended to quarantine due to exposure or symptoms of coronavirus;
  • You must provide care for a child whose school or child care provider has been closed due to coronavirus;
  • You must provide care to an at-risk family member who has been required or recommended to quarantine due to exposure or symptoms of coronavirus.

What will I be paid if this Act gets passed?

If this Act gets passed, employees will be entitled to receive 2 weeks (80 hours) paid sick leave paid at their regular rate if they are quarantining or seeking medical or preventative care for themselves but will only receive two-thirds of their regular rate of pay for 2 weeks if caring for a child or at-risk family member whose school has been closed or has been exposed to coronavirus. After the two week paid leave has lapsed, an employee may be entitled to have the rest of their 12 week job protected leave be paid out at two-thirds their regular rate of pay. However, until the Bill is passed, employees should follow their usual paid time off and sick leave policies.  

Can an employer send me home if they believe I am sick?

Even though your employer should not be polling its workers about their health conditions, they may be able to inquire if you are experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms such as fever or chills. To that effect, an employee that is displaying COVID-19 like symptoms can be sent home. It is important to note that if any of your health information is disclosed, such as testing positive for COVID-19, it should be kept confidential.

It is clear that we will quickly be seeing more changes as the days progress. Health experts continue to call for social distancing and self-imposed quarantines to slow the spread of the virus, which now include school closures, canceled events, and even closures to bar and restaurants. As legislation with regard to the coronavirus response is constantly evolving, feel free to call our employment law firm with any questions or concerns about your rights. Fitapelli & Schaffer, LLP offers a free and confidential phone consultation and is available to take your call at (212) 300 – 0375. You can also view additional information on our website here.