COVID-19. Your Rights as an Employee | ASM Lawyers
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COVID-19. Your Rights as an Employee

With the situation on COVID-19 evolving almost hourly, employers and employees are closely monitoring the situation, especially in those states that have confirmed cases, such as California.  While many of the people infected in the US were passengers on the cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, this virus has been classified as “readily transmittable person-to-person”. But, as viruses go, “human coronaviruses can remain infectious from 2 hours to 9 days; certain versions of a coronavirus could remain viable for up to 28 days”.

Your Employee Rights

In response to all the warnings from the CDC and other health organizations of a possible global pandemic, employers need to be proactive and focus on workplace best practices to prevent the transmittal and spread of the coronavirus.

Crisis Management

While there is no evidence of prevalent transmission of COVID-19 in the US at this time, entire offices and businesses abroad have shut down operations proactively, performing their duty of care, and taking precautionary measures to minimize the spread of the virus.  As a US employee, you are entitled to take precautionary measures as well as protect yourself, and others, from becoming exposed.

Many companies are establishing work-from-home policies to allow those with symptoms as well as those with no symptoms but who may have been exposed, to stay home and work remotely. Check with your employer if this may be an option.

Best Practices

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends taking some actions to help prevent the spread of this virus:

  • Avoiding exposure is the best way to prevent infection. 
  • Avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth with unwashed/unsanitized hands.
  • Disinfect objects and surfaces often.
  • Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue; dispose of properly.
  • Stay home when sick.
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

You can find some additional resources at:

What Employers Should Do

Employers should prepare to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect their employees. Bringing in a company to decontaminate the premises, hand sanitizers, and face masks are all excellent efforts.

However, according to FMLA Insights Jeff Nowak, if an employer suspects that an employee is displaying classic symptoms, i.e. cough, fever, difficulty breathing, your employer should:

  • Ask the employee to stay home until symptoms have cleared and a doctor has cleared them to return to work
  • Ask the employee to seek medical attention–put you in touch with agencies to help you get the proper treatment
  • Advise employees to “self-monitor” for symptoms of the virus.

If you are not displaying any symptoms but your employer suspects that you may have been exposed and asks you to work from home or take an LOA, the time taken cannot be counted against your FMLA allotment. If you do develop the symptoms, seek medical attention immediately and notify your employer.

What are the Risks 

Currently, most US employees are not at risk. But, as we are witnessing, the situation is very volatile and can change rapidly. If you are an employee in a company that has employees who travel, especially to regions where there are confirmed cases of COVID-19, and if you feel you may have been exposed, request permission to work from home (if feasible) for the next two weeks.

If you work in an organization that has sent people home on Leave of Absence with symptoms, you have the right to the same protections. Talk to your manager or supervisor. If you are not satisfied with your employer’s response, Aiman-Smith & Marcy are here to help in all aspects of employment law.

Call us today for a free consultation and let us help get you the equitable treatment you deserve.