COVID-19 spread is challenging day-to-day life in unprecedented ways. All sections of society – including employees and employers – should play a vital role to protect themselves and each other and help prevent further spread of the virus. After The HR Digest’s COVID-19 Employers’ Guide, more questions poured in from readers trying to navigate the most pressing issues. To get clarity, we took readers’ queries and concerns to Jane Harper, our resident human resources experts. Here are answers to some of the most pressing questions:
DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION AT WORK
I have immune deficiency which prevents me from venturing out right now. I have requested to continue working from home, but my boss says I have to be at work. Can my boss make me return to work?
Your condition is covered by federal and many state disability statues, which would allow you to be entitled to work from home as a reasonable accommodation for your condition.
In the past, courts haven’t required companies to allow working from home as a reasonable accommodation, especially if the job required being in the physical work setting. The ongoing pandemic and the current government COVID-19 guidelines for prevent the spread of the virus suggest greater protection in this scenario.
If your boss prevents you from working from home contact the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the civil- or human-rights agency in your state and explore options for filings a charge of disability-based discrimination.
I’M NOT PROVIDED PROTECTIVE GEAR AT WORK
I fear I could risk getting exposed to coronavirus while on the job. Is my employer required to provide me with protective gear?
Federal and state laws require employers to provide a safe workplace. If you work in an industry where you are in direct contact with people who have COVID-19, then your employer is required to provide you with protective equipment.
RISK OF GETTING EXPOSED TO THE CORONAVIRUS
Can my company fire me if I turn down tasks I fear put me at the risk of coronavirus?
It is probably illegal to ask an employee to put themselves at a risk of getting the coronavirus. Although, there are ways to do the work without the risk of exposure. This doesn’t mean the employer cannot fire you to refusing a task.
The best approach to minimize exposure is without interacting with people. If you believe you have been exposed to the virus or feel sick, you may stay at home or refuse to work, even under the threat of being terminated. Employers who know a worker has been exposed to the coronavirus or is sick and require that employee to work and risk exposing others could face civil and criminal liability.
PUTTING IN LONGER HOURS WORKING REMOTELY
I got offered to return to work but on a completely different shift. I have children at home – one with a debilitating condition – and the new hours would make it difficult to manage work and home. Will I be denied unemployment if I refuse to return under the new offered hours? (I’m from California.)
No. On April 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issues a temporary rule regarding the implementation of the emergency paid leave for U.S. employees. Under the temporary rule, employees with fewer than 500 employees are required until the end of the year to provide up to two weeks of paid leave and 10 weeks at two-thirds of pay for workers.
Employees in quarantine, caring for a child or ill family members are eligible for the initial two weeks of paid leave. Businesses that fall under the mandate (fewer than 500 employees), would also have to provide the additional 10 weeks off at partial pay for people who have lost their child care due to school and day-care closures. This law, however, allows the secretary of labor to exempt small businesses with less than 500 employees from the new provisions.
Make sure you appeal to the company for the old shift. Don’t lose hope if your employer takes too long to respond. California is an extremely employee-friendly state with its Employment Development Department (EDD). Lastly, document your conversations and show that it’s legitimately impossible for you to cover the new shift.
The brutal and straightforward answers to HR-related queries and concerns. Send in your queries with the subject line ‘Ask JANE HARPER’ at [email protected].