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Coronavirus: What can your employer do?

Posted on 04/02/20 by Malloy Law Offices in COVID-19

The coronavirus outbreak is getting worse day by day. This can create conflict between employers and employees who still are requested to go to work. Both sides are trying to sort out their rights and responsibilities in containing the spread.

First of all, remember that according to the Department of Labor, an employee may file a complaint with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concerning hazardous working conditions at any time, if these conditions are given.

While many employees are wondering just how far their bosses have to go to ensure their safety from the coronavirus’ spread, here are some answers to those concerns. From canceled vacations and trips to liability and privacy at work.




Can my employer interfere in my vacation or personal travel time?

Mostly, yes. Under federal law issued by the Department of Labor, employers are not required to provide employees with either paid or unpaid vacation leave. Moreover, employers have the right to cancel a vacation and require workers to return to their duties.

As to travel plans, an employer cannot command how an employee should spend his or her personal time. In addition, although employers are not legally obliged to make a reimbursement, an employee might be able to get one, especially if there’s a contract indication about this kind of matter.



Do I have the right to work remotely due to the coronavirus outbreak?

An employee might feel uncomfortable about commuting into work and increasing their risk of exposure, and in consequence their loved ones. But if your local government defines your work as “essential,” you may have to comply with your employer’s wishes.

Furthermore, Federal legislation allows state and local authorities to make their own choices when deciding which businesses are essential during crises, such as a pandemic. Despite the fact of lacking a national consensus for this type of categorization, there are some patterns to follow for each state and territory.

Here’s a list of some other examples of essential businesses: Energy employees, Water and wastewater, Transportation and logistics, Public works, Communications and information technology, Other community-based government operations and essential functions, Critical manufacturing, Financial services, Law firms.

What protections do I have if I say I can’t complete my duties because of the outbreak?

If you are near a hot zone, you’d probably be within legal statements to stay home. The OSHA has a “General Duty Clause” that demands an ‘employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees’.

There are some essential duties that every employer should complete if they keep their employees at the office. According to the federal bill, employers should keep their workplaces with no more than 10 people. In addition, there are other essentials, such as hand sanitizer and pre-moistened tissues which are not requirements, but should be provided to employees.


Is my employer liable if I end up catching coronavirus at work?

If a worker suffers an injury on the job, such as a slip & fall, that employee could file a claim for workers’ compensation. But with the coronavirus, it is a completely different story due to a variety of reasons which complicates the case. 

For the time being, it’s improbable and questionable, because it could be tough to determine exactly where an employee contracted the disease, making it extremely difficult to make an employer responsible for medical bills.

Moreover, if an employee has contracted coronavirus, it is not mandatory for the employer to reveal that information. Contrary to popular belief, they cannot legally reveal the infected person’s identity without written consent.

According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), there is a report with guidelines that employers and health agencies should follow when it comes to coronavirus contagion.

Should I go to work with coronavirus out there?

It’s hard to tell whether an employer is right or wrong in making its employees work in the office. There’s no general answer to this question and there is no official guideline that makes us all follow the same protocol for every single state and territory of the United States.

Nonetheless, it is strictly important to contribute with our own actions, such as constantly washing our hands, keeping our personal distance from another person, avoiding common areas, and especially, taking this seriously.