Coronavirus is quickly spreading across the globe with confirmed infections exceeding 120,000 worldwide and growing daily. Many more individuals may be infected with mild to no symptoms. In light of this epidemic, you may be wondering, “How does Coronavirus affect my rights at work?”
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a respiratory disease that can spread by droplets propelled into the air through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms can include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Those infected with Coronavirus may take up to two weeks to recover, although in some cases hospitalization is required. A small percentage of people will suffer very serious symptoms, which can even result in death.
But how does the proliferation of Coronavirus impact you at work? Many employers have begun instituting work from home policies. Employers have become stricter about showing up to work with symptoms. In addition, employers are also restricting employee travel, both business and personal. All of these changes have many employees wondering what their employment rights are. My responses to some common employee questions are below.
Is it ok for me to wear a mask to work?
It is up to your employer. Employers do not have to allow an employee to wear a mask while at work, and some employers may even refuse to allow masks at work if they fear it could create panic among customers. If employers want to mandate mask-wearing at work, they would need to provide training to employees on the proper use of masks. Employers would also need to address any employees that may be adversely affected by face masks.
What if I have pre-existing conditions or I am elderly?
If you have a pre-existing health condition or are in a high-risk group, your employer may have to allow you the accommodation of wearing a face mask. You should discuss your condition with your employer and be prepared to provide medical documentation from your physician attesting to your condition and the need for a mask. You might have alternative options as well, such as the ability to work from home. If a reasonable accommodation is not possible, you might be able to take unpaid leave.
Can my employer prevent me from traveling?
Employers have a responsibility towards all of their employees and cannot knowingly expose their employees to a potential health hazard. If you travel, you are generally at an increased risk of being infected with Coronavirus. Accordingly, your employer may restrict your ability to travel, whether for work or personal reasons. If you have an urgent need to travel, you should discuss this with your employer. Your employer may require you to take additional time off to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution and/or require a physician’s note to ensure you are in good health before you can return to work.
Can I be required to stay home without pay?
Under federal and state law, hourly employees need only be paid for actual hours worked. Salaried workers may continue to be paid, depending on their employer’s policies. If you are required to work from home, you should be paid for this time. However, if you are unable to work from home, you may be able to use any sick leave, paid time off (PTO), or other paid leave for which you are eligible. Unfortunately, many workers do not have sick leave or other forms of paid leave. In such cases, employees may be required to stay home without pay. Luckily, in Illinois, any employees who become unemployed due to Coronavirus are now eligible to claim unemployment benefits to the fullest extent allowed by law.
What if I am scared, and I want to stay home?
Employers do not have to honor a request to stay home. However, if there is guidance to support such action by the government, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), or the World Health Organization (WHO), your employer may be persuaded to allow an accommodation. You may be required to use your paid time off if working from home is not an option, or you may have to take unpaid leave.
Can I take FMLA leave?
Employers with 50 or more employees must provide their employees with up to three (3) months of leave. If you or your loved ones fall ill, including as a result of Coronavirus, you may be eligible to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which covers both mental and physical illness. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may also provide you with a reasonable accommodation in the form of working from home. Employees could also be eligible for short-term disability or worker’s compensation, depending on the circumstances.
If I am sick with Coronavirus, can my employer tell my co-workers?
Employers are subject to privacy laws which prevent them from disclosing the details of your illness with co-workers. However, given the contagious nature of Coronavirus, employers may send a notice to employees notifying them that a suspected or confirmed case has been reported without naming specific employees.
If you have more questions about your employment rights in light of the Coronavirus outbreak, consult an experienced attorney who can help guide you.