The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many businesses shutting down. But “essential” businesses remain open and, as such, workers are at increased risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Some companies have allowed people to work remotely, but this is not possible in the healthcare, grocery, and shipping industries. Unfortunately, not all workers have been provided with the right Personal Protection Equipment (PPE); many have expressed safety concerns on the job.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to maintain a reasonably safe working environment during the pandemic. It has issued COVID-19 guidance that includes sanitizing and social distancing. However, far too many workers have been fired for addressing unsafe workplace conditions and requesting PPE.
During this time of crisis, the law protects you if your employer doesn’t comply with the latest safety guidelines. You may take legal action if:
- A healthcare employer has retaliated for expressing your concerns over patient safety.
- You’ve been fired, threatened, or disciplined for refusing to work without PPE or social distancing
- Your employer has retaliated against you for promoting safer working conditions or reporting a violation
- An employer has denied emergency leave or paid time off for caring for an infected family member
- You were fired for not showing up to work during a shelter-in-place order
What the Law Says
The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers with 50 or more workers (for 20 or more weeks per year), to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave. It protects your job if you must take time off for medical reasons, including COVID-19. Many businesses provide several weeks of paid leave per year, although federal law doesn’t require this.
Under state law, workers in California accrue an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The law applies for up to a maximum of 48 hours of sick leave.
Whether your employer can fire you depends on your situation. They may require you to work remotely even if you’ve tested positive. But this may apply only if you have mild symptoms. If you have more serious symptoms, your employer would likely not have the legal merit to terminate you. Also, it is illegal to fire someone for quarantining while infected, as determined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Similarly, if you were infected during a business trip, you have legal rights if you are fired for requesting workers’ compensation. Benefits are generally available for someone who suffers an occupational illness at work or while traveling for their job, especially if your profession makes you more at risk for catching COVID-19. This includes if you are a nurse, doctor, home health care worker, or even a flight attendant.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
The FFCRA, enforced by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, requires private employers with fewer than 500 employees to offer temporary paid leave. This applies to individuals in quarantine, caring for a child whose school or daycare was closed, or who are caring for a sick family member. Covered employees are eligible for up to two weeks of paid sick time, or an additional 10 weeks (if employed for at least 30 days), for COVID-19-related reasons. More information on the law can be found at the link above.
Contact Lawyers for Justice for Help
Our Los Angeles legal team is experienced with wrongful termination law in California. If your employer has fired you for reasons related to COVID-19 or raising concerns over workplace safety, we can hold them accountable. Call 818-587-8423 for a free consultation.