Coronavirus Employment Law Questions

Every day there are new headlines regarding the coronavirus (also known as Covid-19) and employment. From the millions of people working from home to those filing for unemployment, just about everyone is being impacted. At The Dominguez Firm, we’re keeping tabs on the latest news as well as the questions we’ve been receiving from you, the public regarding employment law.

Below you’ll find answers to some of the most common work-related questions we receive. Keep in mind that the situation surrounding the coronavirus and employment matters is constantly changing. In addition, every person’s circumstances are different. If you would like to consult a possible employment case, we are here for you. If there is no recovery, there is no fee. Call our employment lawyers for a free and confidential consultation: 800-818-1818.

Can I request reasonable accommodations from my employer, such as being allowed to work from home?

Yes, you can request reasonable accommodations. In addition, your employer’s legal obligations to proactively work with you in identifying reasonable accommodations in response to your disability or medical reason remains unchanged.

Even if you are already working under reasonable accommodations, your employer must work with you to identify additional reasonable accommodations in response to the coronavirus if medically necessary. However, your employer is not obligated to grant your request if it would result in undue hardship for them. The size and nature of your employer would have to be taken into consideration.

Can I collect unemployment or other benefits if I am an independent contractor?

While independent contractors do not normally qualify for unemployment, they can now apply for the newly created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

Be aware that here in California, the definition of an independent contractor, gig worker or freelancer is currently a grey area. California law considers many of these workers to be misclassified and in fact, regular employees. It’s best to check with California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) to see if you qualify for regular unemployment as well.

Is my employer obligated to tell me if a co-worker has tested positive for the coronavirus?

If a co-worker has tested positive for the coronavirus, your employer is obligated to let you and your colleagues know you may have been exposed. But they cannot reveal the identity of that person.

Your employer may take further steps such as closing the workplace for a deep cleaning or allowing employees to begin working from home where possible, although this is not mandatory. Also, the employer does not have to keep you, or the other impacted employees updated on the health status of the co-worker with the coronavirus.

Can I refuse to go to work if I’m afraid to catch the coronavirus?

If there is a government “Stay at Home” order for your type of work, you do not have to go to work. Essential workers whose employers are adhering to best practices during this pandemic, cannot refuse to go to work. Some of these best practices include:

  • Social distancing
  • Sending employees who display coronavirus symptoms home
  • Offering work from home options wherever possible

However, your employer may not terminate you for a good faith refusal to expose yourself to dangerous job conditions if there are unchecked safety issues. If you do have concerns about workplace safety related to coronavirus, you should first approach your employer to see about remedying those issues. If that fails, then you can report any safety violations to the California Labor Board’s office.

Also, if an employer terminates an employee for notifying the proper authorities about unsafe work conditions, that employer may be subject to two justifications for a lawsuit: one for wrongful termination and another for retaliation.

Can I file for workers’ compensation benefits if I have contracted the coronavirus?

Yes, if you contracted coronavirus while on the job. Then you would be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. You may also be entitled to temporary disability payments and medical care.

I’m an undocumented immigrant who has lost their job because of the coronavirus. Can I collect unemployment?

Sadly, as an undocumented immigrant, you cannot collect unemployment if you lose your job because of the coronavirus pandemic. You may qualify for California State Disability Insurance, Workers’ Compensation or Paid Family Leave. Of course, you would have to provide proof of any medical issue to yourself or a family member to qualify for these benefits.

However, your employer is still obligated to pay you the full amount of wages you are owed regardless of undocumented status.

I need to stay home and care for a loved one with the coronavirus/stay home with my children due to school closures. Are there any financial resources available to me while I cannot work?

Fortunately, you have several resources at your disposal while you care for your loved one or stay home to care for your children. As of April 1st, 2020, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act allows employees to use paid sick days to care for a sick family member/their children if their employer had less than 500 employees. Smaller employers with less than 50 employees may be exempt from this new law.

At the state level, California gives employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. It can be used for themselves or a family member. The minimum days they are entitled to is three days. Larger cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego allow up to 6 days.

And if those days are exhausted, you can also apply for Paid Family Leave from the California Employment Development Department (EDD). This benefit is for up to six weeks and can extend to eight weeks beginning July 1, 2020. It will also provide you with at least 60% of your current income. Your citizenship or immigration status does not impede your ability to file for Paid Family Leave. You will need to provide medical proof of a family member’s illness from a physician.

Can my employer ask me questions about my health, such as if I belong to a high-risk group?

No, they cannot. They are allowed to ask if you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, but this information cannot be used against you or revealed to your co-workers.

If I traveled recently, can my employer ask me if I was in an area severely impacted by coronavirus? And if I was, can they force me to self-quarantine?

If you traveled internationally within the last 14 days, then yes, they can. This is especially true if you were in one of the countries severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, they can ask you to stay away from work and self-quarantine for 14 days.

Can I be sent home if my employer believes I am showing symptoms of the coronavirus?

Yes. If you display symptoms related to the coronavirus, your employer has the right to ask you to leave work. As per the CDC guidelines, all employees who display any of the following symptoms of the coronavirus can be asked to leave the workplace immediately:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough

Your employer should also provide you with paid sick leave if available. If paid sick leave has been exhausted, other options include vacation time or unpaid leave with job protection.

Can I be forced to take a pay cut?

Yes. An employer can cut employee salaries to keep their business open during the coronavirus crisis. However, if there is a clear pattern of discrimination as to who’s salary is cut, then that would be illegal. For example, if only women or Latino employees are asked to take a pay cut, that would be workplace discrimination.

Can an employer withdraw an offer of employment letter because of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus?

Generally, yes. California is an “at-will” state, which means you can be fired without cause, or have a job offer revoked. However, if the offer was revoked for discriminatory reasons, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.

California has some of the strongest employee protection laws in the nation. This hasn’t changed because of the coronavirus outbreak. These are some examples of ways your employer may be violating your rights due to the coronavirus:

  • Being subjected to jokes or verbal abuse for being part of a particular ethnic group associated with the coronavirus.
  • Being fired for notifying your employer that you have the coronavirus.
  • Being ordered to go to work in violation of a stay at home order. If you are in a non-essential business, you cannot be forced to go to work. If you’re fired for refusing to do so, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
  • Being fired for reporting unsafe work conditions related to the coronavirus.
  • Being fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim due to the coronavirus.
  • Being fired for taking family leave to care for a loved one who has the coronavirus.

These are just some examples of things your employer may not do to you. There are others as well. This pandemic is not an excuse for employers to abuse the rights of their employees.

If you have a workplace issue, contact the employment attorneys at The Dominguez Firm. If there is no recovery, there is no fee. Call now for a free and confidential consultation: 800-818-1818.

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— Ashley Magana

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— Janet Salazar

My experience with The Dominguez Firm and the attorneys was really good. They were very informative and always returned my calls.

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