Your Safety and Rights as a Front-line Employee During COVID-19

While Businesses Are Reopening Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, a Fight Is Brewing Over Worker Safety

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, both employers and workers in Oklahoma and throughout the country are wondering when it will be safe for them to return to work.

Some businesses are beginning to open their doors, and employees want to know that they aren’t putting themselves at risk. Business owners want to know if they will be hit with a lawsuit if their workers get sick.

What Legal Protections Exist for Workers During COVID-19?

Employees are protected under a number of federal laws. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) grants workers the right to refuse to work if they believe their workplace conditions could cause severe harm. Employers have to comply with the act’s “general duty clause,” which requires that they guarantee their employees a workplace free from hazards that are causing, or likely to cause, serious physical harm or death.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers must provide employees unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons, including COVID-19 complications. Employees who take FMLA leave are entitled to keeping their group health insurance under the same terms they had before they took the leave.

If you have questions about workers’ compensation during the pandemic, you can count on Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons. Contact us for more info.

Can My Employer Fire Me If I Won’t Return to the Workplace?

In general, your employer can fire you if you refuse to come back to work. Most employees are employed “at will,” which means that an employer can fire them for any reason that is not considered illegal.

Being anxious about COVID-19 most likely will not be enough to protect you if you refuse to report to work. Unless you have legal justification, refusing to work will constitute a resignation.

However, there are whistleblower protection laws that make it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for refusing to take on an assignment for safety concerns. This is important to note if you know you will be in direct contact with people who have COVID-19 and lack a face mask or sanitizing agents to protect yourself. However, if you can reasonably determine that the assignment you are asked to do is safe, refusing the task may not be legally protected.

Legal Considerations When Reopening a Business

COVID-19 presents new legal considerations for employers. While the coronavirus pandemic is responsible for new laws like the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, employers need to take additional steps to make sure they comply with laws in place prior to the pandemic, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Because COVID-19 is highly contagious and its effects range from no symptoms to death, employers are faced with a challenge when it comes to providing a workplace free from hazards that could cause serious physical harm or death.

Employers need to make a concerted effort to review and follow all federal guidelines. It is highly advisable that employers review the following federal resources:

Your Legal Rights as an Employee During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires certain employers to provide employees with expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The provisions of FFCRA apply to certain public employers and to private employers with fewer than 500 employees.

An employee may take emergency sick leave under the FFCRA if they are:

  • Subject to quarantine order or caring for someone who is subject to a quarantine order.
  • Advised by a health professional to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns or caring for someone who is advised to self-quarantine.
  • Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a diagnosis.
  • Caring for their child if, because of COVID-19 protections, their school has been closed or their childcare provider is not available.

Contact the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Lawyer for a Free Consultation

If you contract COVID-19 or another disease that arises out of your employment, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. You must prove that you contracted the disease due to your employment.

The Oklahoma City workers’ compensation attorneys at Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons help hundreds of workers each year with their workers’ compensation claims. We are committed to protecting the rights of Oklahomans who were injured or contracted a disease on the job.

If you have suffered an injury on the job or lost a loved one in a workplace accident, seek legal advice on obtaining workers’ compensation benefits as soon as possible. Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons has the skills, resources, and experience necessary to fight for you.

Call us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.