Workers’ Rights During a Pandemic

Posted by: Chris

Despite the continuing rise in the number of coronavirus cases in some areas of the country, many states have declared themselves open for business.  On June 1, 2020, Oklahoma began Phase 3 of the state’s Open Up & Recover Safely (OURS) Plan, essentially returning state businesses and workers to fulltime open status.

Many employees who have been working from home and have been called back to their workplaces are worried about being exposed to the coronavirus. Employers should be following guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). 

Here are some key questions that Oklahoma workers may have regarding their rights when returning to the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Can my employer force me to return to work or can I continue to work from home?

In general, if your employer has called you back to the workplace, you will have to return if you want to keep your job. However, depending on your circumstances, there may be options. For example, if your immune system is compromised or you have an underlying health condition that could lead to serious complications, you may be entitled to continue to work from home as a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), you may also qualify for paid leave if you are caring for a family member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or a child whose school or place of care is unavailable.

Can my company require me to have my temperature taken, wear a mask or gloves, or take a coronavirus test in order for me to return to work?

Since COVID-19 spreads easily and can be a threat to co-workers, employers are allowed to take your temperature and require you to wear a mask in the workplace.  If you have an allergy to any of these items -- like a latex allergy -- your company must make reasonable accommodations.

As for having to take a coronavirus test, employers can require you to take a virus test to determine if you have an active case of COVID-19.  However, you cannot be required to take an antibody test to determine if you had COVID-19 in the past.

Can my company ask me whether I have an underlying condition that may make me more vulnerable to the coronavirus?

According to the EEOC, your employer cannot ask you this question.  It is your decision whether or not to disclose an underlying condition that may make you more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Can my company force me to stay at home if I have COVID-19 symptoms?

Yes; the CDC and EEOC guidance states that protecting co-workers from potential exposure is a priority and if you are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, your supervisor may ask you to stay at home.

Have you been injured at work? Don’t hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Armstrong & Vaught, P.L.C. Let our team stand by your side throughout the workers’ compensation claim process to ensure you are fully compensated for your work-related injuries. Call us now at 918-582-2500, toll-free at (800) 722-8880, or contact us online for a free consultation with a skilled attorney.