We put a bunch of questions to attorney R. Scott Oswald from the Employment Law Group and summarized his responses:
I have an underlying condition that makes me more at-risk for complications from COVID-19. Do I have the right to work from home and/or take leave?
Yes. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, workers who have a condition that could be exacerbated by the virus have the right to ask to telework or take leave. This could include individuals with diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or people who are immunocompromised. Those with anxiety or other mental health conditions that are exacerbated by fear of the virus could also request remote work or leave. It’s ultimately up to an employer’s discretion whether the request is reasonable, so Oswald says to be “specific and expansive” when making requests to protect yourself from employer retaliation.
I work a job where I’m considered an “essential employee.” Does that mean I still have to come to work when some coworkers are allowed to work from home?
It depends. If those coworkers are “nonessential employees” and your work can’t be done remotely, then yes. But if you can do your work remotely, you likely have the right to work from home as well. Likewise, if your work requires in-person interaction, but coworkers with the same position are being allowed to leave (like if you’re a waiter and other waiters are being sent home), then you have a right to take leave as well.
If I choose to or am told to self-quarantine and can’t work remotely, will that come out of my vacation days?
Check your employer’s policy. Generally, larger employers (50 or more employees) provide more flexibility when it comes to paid leave. But if your employer is small enough and has a policy saying you have to use your vacation and sick days before taking paid leave, then, yes, you can kiss your vacation days goodbye.
I’m an hourly worker whose job requires me to be there in-person. Will I still be paid if I have to quarantine?
That’s up to your employer. Under the current law, if you don’t show up for work, you don’t have to be paid. Oswald says employers who choose not to pay sick employees might open themselves up to a PR nightmare, but that there are also many small businesses “teetering on the edge” who might not have the funds to pay these workers. This could change if the federal government implements a national emergency and outlines pay guidelines. Until then, talk to your employer about their policy.
If I’m told to stay home from work and am not getting paid, does that mean I can claim unemployment?
Yes. According to Oswald, if you are put in a position not of your own making (like being forced to quarantine) and aren’t being paid, you can seek unemployment compensation.
My company wasn’t in the best financial shape before the virus hit, and I’m worried about my job. Am I protected from termination?
If you work for a larger company, they’re required to put employees on notice before issuing mass layoffs. But if you work for a smaller employer, they could shutter the business overnight and only owe you the wages you made while it was open.