Federal and state laws often require employers to provide proper safety and protective equipment, and paid leave for workers who get sick. During the coronavirus outbreak, some employers are reportedly failing to provide employees with needed sanitation gear, such as gloves, masks, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer.

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Workers’ Rights During the Coronavirus Outbreak

It is illegal for employers to fire or otherwise retaliate against workers for deciding to use needed sick leave that has been granted to them, requesting a reasonable accommodation, or reporting unsafe conditions to their employers or the government.

If a worker has a disability or medical condition (such as respiratory conditions or being immunocompromised) that increases their risk of harm from COVID-19, employers must provide reasonable accommodations.

If you are considering walking off the job to refuse dangerous work, you should know it is only legally protected in some circumstances—see below.

Do employers have to provide masks, gloves, and sanitation equipment?

OSHA says it is the employer’s responsibility to proactively identify hazards in the workplace and to provide any necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees. The employer must also pay for the protective personal equipment and train employees in how to use it. For the hazards posed by COVID-19, this may include:

  • Masks
  • Gloves
  • Sneeze guards
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant wipes

In addition to providing the PPE and training on how to use it, employers must pay for any extra cleaning time required for COVID-19 safety.

Some states requirement employers to provide paid sick leave. For example, under California labor law, employers are required to provide three days (or 24 hours) of paid sick leave per year. Employees are allowed to use their sick leave not just for being sick, but also for:

  • Quarantining after a high risk of exposure to COVID-19, if quarantine is recommended by civil authorities
  • Taking care of a sick family member
  • Going to a doctor’s appointment

In addition, a new federal law, the CARES Act, provide Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to workers who’ve gotten sick with COVID-19. The CARES Act expands unemployment and also offers pay to people who are working reduced hours due to getting sick or caring for someone who’s gotten sick from COVID-19.

Can an employer fire a worker for refusing to work during the coronavirus pandemic?

Please note: walking off the job may not be legally protected unless certain conditions are met.

OSHA says you have the right to refuse dangerous work only if:

  • You have asked your employer to eliminate the danger and they refused
  • You genuinely believe there’s an imminent danger (i.e. you’re refusing in “good faith”)
  • A reasonable person would agree that you’re facing an imminent danger of death or serious injury
  • There isn’t enough time for OSHA to come inspect your workplace

If you wish to refuse dangerous work, OSHA says you should do the following:

  • Ask your employer to either fix the hazard or else to give you different, safe work
  • Tell your employer you won’t do the dangerous work until the hazard is fixed, and
  • Stay at the worksite until and unless your employer directs you to leave

Although under OSHA rules, an employer may not discriminate or retaliate against (including firing) a worker who refuses dangerous work, the employer may decide to not pay the worker during the refusal.

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Our Employment Attorneys

Eric Gibbs

A founding partner at the firm, Eric has negotiated groundbreaking settlements that resulted in reforms to business practices, and have favorably shaped the laws impacting plaintiffs’ legal rights.

Steven Tindall

Steven Tindall has specialized in employment and class action litigation for over twenty years. He has been lead or co-lead counsel on several cases that resulted in settlements worth over $1 million.

Dylan Hughes

Dylan Hughes concentrates his practice on investigating and prosecuting fraud matters on behalf of whistleblowers, consumers and employees harmed by corporate misconduct.

Aaron Blumenthal

Aaron Blumenthal represents consumers, employees, and whistleblowers in class action and other complex litigation.

Steve Lopez

Steve Lopez represents consumers, employees, and whistleblowers harmed by corporate misconduct. He has prosecuted a variety of consumer protection and complex employment cases.

Linda Lam

Linda Lam focuses her practice on representing consumers, small businesses, and employees in complex litigation. Previously, she represented workers and retirees at a national employment law firm.

About Us

Gibbs Law Group is a California-based law firm committed to protecting the rights of clients nationwide who have been harmed by corporate misconduct. We represent individuals, whistleblowers, employees, and small businesses across the U.S. against the world’s largest corporations. Our award-winning lawyers have achieved landmark recoveries and over a billion dollars for our clients in high-stakes class action and individual cases involving consumer protection, data breach, digital privacy, and federal and California employment lawsuits. Our attorneys have received numerous honors for their work, including “Top Plaintiff Lawyers in California,” “Top Class Action Attorneys Under 40,” “Consumer Protection MVP,” “Best Lawyers in America,” and “Top Cybersecurity/ Privacy Attorneys Under 40.”