The COVID-19 crisis continues to grab headlines in California and especially Los Angeles. As the state’s COVID-19 hotspot, statistics show Los Angeles is averaging almost 2,500 new cases per day. Many of these cases can be found among essential workers on the front lines. These include those in the healthcare, maintenance, construction and food industry/grocery sectors. All sectors where communities of color are overwhelmingly represented.
All employees have the right to a safe work environment. The current coronavirus crisis does not excuse employers from these safety guidelines. If you or a loved one became seriously ill or passed away after contracting the coronavirus at work, you have legal options. The COVID-19 employment lawyers at the Dominguez Firm are ready to help you. Call us for a free and confidential consultation at 800-818-1818.
Here are some common questions we receive along with more information and resources related to employment law and COVID-19.
What are considered examples of unsafe work conditions related to COVID-19?
Employees in different sectors may experience different types of unsafe work conditions. While health care workers have contact with COVID-19 patients on a daily basis, that is an expected part of their job and would not on its own qualify as an unsafe work condition. However, if these same health care workers don’t have enough masks and gloves to protect them, that would greatly increase their exposure to COVID-19and would qualify as an unsafe work condition.
Another example involves meat and poultry processing plant workers. They have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. To date, there have been 16,233 cases spread out across 239 facilities and 86 deaths due to the disease. Among the factors that contributed to these disturbing statistics are:
- Lack of social distancing (6 feet apart or more) on the assembly lines, which were designed for speed and efficiency, not extra space between workers
- Shared transportation to and from the plants is common in this industry
- Ventilation systems meant to protect meat from becoming contaminated can also spread COVID-19 more easily
- Crowded shared common spaces such as locker rooms and cafeterias
Other examples of COVID-19-related unsafe work conditions across all sectors include:
- Pressuring employees who are not feeling well to continue working
- Not providing a flexible sick leave policy
- A lack of or insufficient amounts of proper safety equipment
- Not requiring constant and proper hand washing, nor related signage in restrooms
- Not having enough sanitizing stations available
- Not restricting access to outside parties such as vendors
- Not disinfecting work areas in a timely and thorough manner
Not having a clear or flexible sick leave policy can lead to employees showing up for work, even if they aren’t feeling well. There are other examples of unsafe work conditions as well. The bottom line is employers should be implementing all state and federal COVID-19 safety regulations in order to provide a safe work environment for their employees.
My employer fired me for complaining about unsafe work conditions, is there anything I can do?
Your employer cannot fire you for pointing out unsafe work conditions. As a whistleblower, you would have certain legal protections against retaliation and/or being fired for doing so. They also can’t fire you for reporting any unsafe conditions to OSHA or the California Labor Board. That would also be retaliation. You can report both. If any of this happens to you, you should also call the COVID-19 employment lawyers at The Dominguez Firm right away. And don’t delay since there are strict deadlines for filing a claim.
Non-essential employees who were fired for refusing to go to work due to unsafe work conditions may also be able to file a claim for retaliation, especially if a Safer at Home order was in place when they were terminated. If, for example, the employer ordered the employee to show up for work in spite of the Safer at Home order and it was a non-essential business, they would probably have a legitimate claim for retaliation if they were fired for refusing to do so.
Can I take time off to care for a sick relative who has COVID-19?
Under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employees can take paid sick days to care for a family member with COVID-19 if their employer has fewer than 500 employees. Those who work for employers with less than 50 employees may not be able to take advantage of this new law. They should check with their employer to make sure.
The California Paid Family Leave (PFL) program also provides assistance in this situation. PFL allows workers to collect approximately 60-70% of their wages or salary while they care for a relative who is sick with coronavirus. You must meet certain eligibility requirements which are detailed in the link provided.
I’m an essential worker, but I’m also part of a high-risk group. Am I still required to go to work?
If you are over age 65 or have a chronic health condition, you are not required to go to work, even if you are an essential worker. You should speak to your employer about your concerns to see what accommodations can be provided for you. The Dept. of Fair Employment and Housing has specific employer guidelines addressing the needs of essential workers who are considered high-risk.
Who is considered an essential worker?
Governor Newsom issued his Shelter in Place order for California on March 19, 2020. The order made an exception for essential workers. To clarify who is considered an essential worker, the governor’s office also provided a comprehensive list across various sectors. It can be found here. This list is by no means static. As the coronavirus crisis evolves, other professions may be added or even subtracted from it.
Can I file for workers’ compensation if I contracted COVID-19 at work?
Yes, if you contracted COVID-19 at work, you can file a workers’ compensation claim. And your employer cannot threaten to fire you or take any other negative action against you for doing so. That would be considered retaliation.
Whether your employer is a small local company or a multinational corporation, you don’t want to handle any COVID-19-related employment claim against them on your own. Our attorneys have over 30 years of experience dealing with complex employment claims and all of the deadlines and documentation they entail. They have also been keeping up with the latest employment law issues related to COVID-19 and know how to proceed. Call us at 800-818-1818 for a free and confidential consultation today. And remember, you win, or you don’t pay.