We are not where we envisioned ourselves months ago. COVID-19 continues to affect our lives and workplaces.
The “new normal” is still foreign to us all, while hopes for widespread vaccination have begun to provide some respite from the lockdowns, quarantines, and closed businesses.
What has changed legislatively?
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Act (H.R. 6201) (the “Act”) on March 14, 2020. The Act amends the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and provides additional reasons for leave as well as mandated pay. Under the FMLA, for employees who were employed with the employer the previous 12 months and worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during said 12 months, such employees were able to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for serious health issues or care for a newborn while, at the same time, maintain the comfort of job protection. The FMLA only applied to employers with 50 or more employees and unfortunately expired on December 30, 2020. Employees are now instructed to negotiate to leave with their employers to care for dependents who do not attend a school or other programs as vaccine access has opened.
What can employers do to ensure employee safety and health?
An employer may take the following steps to ensure the safety of its employees:
- If an employee has been absent from work, an employer may ask if it was due to a medical reason. (An employer is always entitled to know why an employee has not reported to work, but not the specific medical condition).
- Require employees who have been absent to provide a doctor’s note certifying they are fit to return to work.
- Insist on face masks, hand washing, and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID in work and rest areas are required to protect employees, customers, and others who come into physical contact with its operations from the spread of COVID-19. The requirements address such measures as social distancing, wearing face masks, health checks, and cleaning and disinfecting high touch areas.
What should an employer do if a worker appears ill?
If any employee presents themselves at work with a fever or difficulty breathing, they should seek medical evaluation. While these symptoms are not always associated with influenza and the likelihood of an employee having the COVID-19 coronavirus is extremely low, it pays to err on the side of caution. Supervisors should be retrained on the importance of not overreacting to workplace situations potentially related to COVID-19 to prevent panic among the workforce.
Can an employee refuse to come to work because of fear of infection?
The threat must be immediate or imminent, which means that an employee must believe that death or serious physical harm could occur within a short time, for example, before OSHA could investigate the problem. Requiring travel to China or to work with patients in a medical setting without personal protective equipment at this time may rise to this threshold. However, most work conditions in the United States do not meet the elements required for an employee to refuse to work. Once again, this guidance is general, and employers must determine when this unusual state exists in your workplace before determining whether it is permissible for employees to refuse to work.
What if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?
The infected employee should be sent home until released by their medical provider or local health provider. All employees who worked closely with that employee should be sent home to ensure the infection does not spread. Before the infected employee departs, ask them to identify all individuals who worked nearby (within six feet) for a prolonged period of time (10 minutes or more to 30 minutes or more) with them during the 48-hour period before the onset of symptoms to ensure you have a full list of those who should be sent home.
Those employees should first consult and follow their healthcare providers or public health department’s advice regarding the length of time to stay at home. The CDC recommends that those who have had close contact for a prolonged period of time with an infected person should remain at home for 14 days after the last exposure. If they develop symptoms, they should remain home for at least seven days from the initial onset of the symptoms, three days without a fever (achieved without medication), and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath).
Contact Our Mercer County Personal Injury Attorneys Today
At The Law Office of Kamensky, Cohen & Riechelson, we have extensive experience helping clients across Mercer County, Trenton, Princeton, and Hamilton recover the compensation they need and deserve for their injuries. We work closely with investigative and medical experts to help prove your claim and provide honest, intelligent, and diligent service to all of our clients.
If you need help dealing with your employer and any facet of this challenging time, call or contact us. At The Law Office of Kamensky, Cohen & Riechelson, our experienced attorneys are ready to help resolve any conflict you have with your employer. Call us at (609) 528-2596.