Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Can I Be Forced to Go Into Work During the COVID-19 Outbreak?

By Casey Erick


Could an employer require you to work during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak?  The answer depends on the job you have. If your local government defines your role as “essential,” you may have to comply with your employer’s wishes or risk termination.


For example, if you are a pharmacist, a police officer, or a sanitation worker, your employer can ask you to come to work. If you don’t, that would be insubordination, misconduct, or quitting.

 

The Amazon Strike

Recently, Amazon made news because it fired a warehouse worker who organized a strike at its Staten Island facility , to call attention to the lack of protections for warehouse workers. The workers were also urging Amazon to close the facility after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus the prior week. The organizers said that at least 50 people joined the walkout.  The company said it fired the worker after he “received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines.” 


An Amazon representative added, “Despite [the] instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk.”  The spokesperson continued, “This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.” Amazon also disputed the number of employees that participated in the strike, saying 15 people walked out at the facility. The company called the workers’ accusations “unfounded” and said it has taken “extreme measures” to make sure employees are safe while on the job.  See the entire story here:  https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/30/amazon-fires-staten-island-coronavirus-strike-leader-chris-smalls.html.


What Protections Do I Have?


Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

If you are not considered an “essential” worker, you might be within your legal rights to stay and work from home, if possible. 


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA’s, “General Duty Clause” requires workplaces to offer environments that are “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” In the case of COVID-19, the virus is definitely “something that is likely to cause serious injury or death.”  Please visit https://www.osha.gov/ for more information.


• Being informed of other employees who are infected

Your employer is required to tell you if other employees get the virus. However, they cannot legally reveal the infected person’s identity without written consent.  According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), only official health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or health departments may disclose identifiable information without a patient’s authorization.


See our COVID-19 Quick Reference page for additional articles.

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