COVID-19 at Work: Your Legal Rights and Responsibilities
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the way we work. Some Americans have been fortunate enough to work from home during this unsettling time. Others have lost their jobs. Then there is the segment of the workforce who are deemed “essential” workers. These are the people who are employed at businesses that are allowed to continue operating throughout the pandemic, regardless of stay-at-home orders.
Understanding your obligations as an employee is always important, but even more so in the middle of a national crisis. Trollinger Law is already assisting first responders who have been infected with the coronavirus. Below, Waldorf attorney Matt Trollinger answers questions about worker rights and responsibilities during COVID-19 in Maryland.
Can Your Employer Make You Go to Work During the Pandemic?
Maryland has been under a stay-at-home order since March 30, along with many other states across the country. Only businesses that provide essential services are allowed to stay open, such as:
- Grocery stores
- Medical facilities, including mental health and rehabilitation services
- Police stations
- Fire stations
- Law firms
- Auto repair shops
- Gas stations
- Educational centers to pick up food or materials for distance learning
- Restaurants (take-out, drive-through, or delivery only)
Essential workers can be required to come in on a regular basis or even on special schedules. Employees who have the capacity to work from home are also obligated to do so if their employer requires it. If you choose to take vacation time to avoid going to work during the pandemic, your employer can cancel your scheduled vacation time and make you work instead.
If there is evidence that the coronavirus has spread in your workplace, your employer would likely not be able to force you to come into the workplace until it has been decontaminated and sterilized, as that would mean knowingly exposing employees to a direct threat of infection.
What If an Employee Comes to Work Sick?
If an essential employee comes to work with obvious signs of illness, he or she needs to be sent home to prevent others from becoming sick. An employer is not under obligation to provide work to an employee with symptoms of a contagious disease. If the employee must miss time from work, the employer can afford the worker sick leave. The employee may also be entitled to take unpaid sick leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act or similar state laws.
The trickier question is whether employees can learn the identity of a co-worker who is diagnosed with coronavirus. Medical privacy laws protect workers’ health information, but employers should certainly mention to their workers that someone in the workplace was infected, especially to those who worked closely with the individual. But whether than person can be named officially is a gray area that has not been clearly defined yet.
If it can be established that an employee was infected with COVID-19 at work, they may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, which can provide coverage for medical care and partial wage replacement during the recovery period.
COVID-19 Legal Responsibilities If You Test Positive
Currently, the law is unclear as to a worker’s responsibility if they receive a positive test for coronavirus. Public health authorities are asking individuals who test positive to provide lists of people that he or she has been in close contact with in the past few weeks. Knowingly exposing others to a communicable disease can be considered criminal assault and battery.
In addition, an employee who knowingly comes into work following a positive coronavirus test (or even while awaiting test results) may give an employer grounds for termination for knowingly or recklessly endangering the health and welfare of co-workers and customers.
COVID-19 Legal Questions? We’re Here to Help
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted us all. At Trollinger Law, we’re already working with Maryland’s brave first responders who have become sick while performing services in the line of duty. We all need to know our rights and responsibilities as a worker and a citizen in order to get through this stressful period as safely as possible.
If you have questions about your rights the COVID-19 pandemic, contact a Waldorf workers’ compensation attorney at Trollinger Law for a free consultation today. Contact us today – our clients will tell you that we get the results and compensation you deserve.