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.
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:
- 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.
Paid sick leave and unemployment during COVID-19 pandemic
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?
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.
Lost pay or gotten sick while working during the coronavirus outbreak?
Our Employment Attorneys
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