The novelty of the current coronavirus outbreak and the speed of its transmission have radically changed the realities of work in many US workplaces. Since the first reported case of the virus in the US, California has announced a state of emergency and imposed almost total restriction on movement.
The need to stamp out the infection has seen the introduction of increasingly stricter measures with profound implications for most workplaces. In the light of these realities, employees may have legitimate concerns about how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting their rights in the workplace.
For instance, if you have been diagnosed with the virus or placed under quarantine, how does this affect your rights to earn a living? If you are facing reduced working hours or simply can no longer get to work, are there any reliefs that you can access from your employer or the government? What actions can your employer take during this period and how will they affect your rights?
Considering the importance of these questions and the implications they will have for employees, the employment attorneys at Eldessouky Law have created this post to help guide you. How will the coronavirus outbreak affect your rights in the workplace? This article explores all you should know.
Can my work make me stay at home?
In certain specific instances, Yes. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act specifically prohibits dealing with a person solely because they have a medical condition, requiring a worker to stay at home does not breach the rules.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers may require employees to leave the workplace. However, this should only be the case if they become ill with symptoms of the virus or if there are reasonable concerns that they have been exposed to the virus.
Your employer can impose further restrictions on your return to work by requiring a medical certification of fitness for duty. The EEOC specifies that requirements of this nature are permitted because they would not be disability-related in these circumstances. Further, even if we consider COVID-19 to be a pandemic influenza that amounts to disability, then such requirements would still be justified.
What does this mean for you? If your employer notes that you exhibit coronavirus-like symptoms or pose an exposure risk to other employees, they may ask you to go home. Before you return to work, they can also require a note from a doctor that certifies you are infection free and fit to work. But keep in mind that a form, stamp or even a short email from a doctor will suffice.
Can I file for unemployment because of the Coronavirus?
The state of California has responded robustly to the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, there are a number of benefits and social relief options that you may explore if you have been affected by the coronavirus. These include unemployment insurance benefits for workers and certain self-employed individuals.
If you are wholly or partially unemployed due to reduced hours or separation from your employer due to quarantine or similar reasons, you may apply for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Other instances in which you can apply for these benefits include if:
- You chose to stay at home from work due to concerns that your underlying health conditions might expose you to the virus
- Your child’s school shut down and you have to miss work in order to care for the child who is not ill
- Your child’s school shut down and you have to stay home to care for the child but you’re not currently employed or you quit in order to care for the child
- Your employer shuts down operations due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak
- You are able to work remotely from home but only at reduced hours through no fault of yours
In all these instances, you may be eligible for UI benefits. To be sure that you are eligible have a look at the California Employment Development Department (EDD) website and see if you qualify under other eligibility criteria.
If you become ill or have to stay home to care for a family member who is ill with the virus, you may also qualify for disability benefits and paid family leave respectively. Have a look at the EDD website to see if you qualify.
What actions can my employer take because of the Coronavirus?
The strict measures required to get a handle on the coronavirus do not give your employer license to disrespect your rights. Whatever measures they take should be based on accepted standards recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the EEOC. Under these regulations, an employer can:
- Request information about your medical condition if you call in sick. They can inquire if the symptoms you are exhibiting are those of COVID-19, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or sore throat. However, your employer must keep this information confidential in compliance with the ADA.
- Take your body temperature as part of screening measures. Although this amounts to a medical examination which an employer should not ordinarily take, your employer may take this measure to help stem the spread of infection.
- Screen applicants for COVID-19 symptoms. However, the employer should have made a conditional offer and the screening should apply to all applicants for the same role. ADA standards will apply here regardless of whether the applicant has a disability or not.
- Take an applicant’s temperature as part of post-offer medicals. Post-offer medicals can be made a valid term in a conditional offer of employment.
- Delay start date of employment for infected new employees. CDC guidelines specify that individuals who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms should not be in the workplace.
- Withdraw a job offer when the applicant has COVID-19 and is required to start immediately. Since the individual cannot safely enter the workplace under current CDC guidelines, the employer would be right to take this action.
Can I be terminated if I have the Coronavirus?
The short answer is No. Your employer should not terminate your employment solely because you tested positive for the coronavirus. Termination solely on this basis would amount to discrimination under both the ADA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
The coronavirus is likely to be treated as a disability under Government Code 12926(o). Under the Code, a “‘…physical disability… medical condition…‘ includes a perception that the person has any of those characteristics or … or is perceived to have, any of those characteristics.”
If you believe that you’re suffering from COVID-19 symptoms and have made a request for time off work, terminating you in those circumstances may also be grounds for a disability discrimination claim.
Ideally, if termination has occurred on either of these accounts, you should contact a California employment lawyer immediately. Reach out to us at Eldessouky Law for advice on what steps you can take in your situation.
Can I be evicted from my home for defaulting on rent or mortgage payments?
If the reason for your default is a decrease in household or business income caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, then answer is NO. The Governor of California has, by Executive Order N-28-20, suspended eviction and foreclosure actions in the state with effect from March 4, 2020.
By virtue of the suspension, you cannot be evicted from your home or have your home foreclosed because of a failure to pay rent or mortgage. The executive order, which will remain in effect until May 31, 2020, applies to landlords and public housing authorities, amongst others.
With the positions expressed in this article, you are now armed with the relevant information you will require to assert your rights in the workplace. If you have any questions or would like to inquire how the law affects your specific case, you can reach us at 714-409-8991.