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COVID-19 Virus – Information for Employees

The COVID-19 pandemic has employees throughout California understandably concerned about their health, safety, and income security. This unprecedented public health crisis could also lead to situations where employees face discrimination or retaliation from their employers. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and your rights may depend on the city and industry in which you are employed. Call a California employment attorney at Spencer Young Law for a free consultation if you have questions.

What Must My Employer Do to Protect Me From Exposure to COVID-19?

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, establishes the health and safety standards employers must follow. Some of these standards apply to all employers, such as maintenance of an effective illness and injury prevention program. Others apply to specific industries, such as the healthcare sector, which is subject to specific standards on preventing the spread of aerosol-transmissible diseases, including COVID-19. Your employer may be required to provide compliant Personal Protective Equipment. If you have questions about industry-specific health and safety standards, you should contact Cal/OSHA, or call an Oakland employment lawyer at Spencer Young Law.

Likewise, if you are familiar with the standards and believe they are not being met, you can report the violation to Cal/OSHA, which has the power to enforce these standards. California Labor Code Section 6310 prohibits your employer from retaliating against you for reporting health safety violations to OSHA. Likewise, California Labor Code Section 6311 prohibits your employer from terminating your employment if you refuse to work under unsafe conditions, provided that:

  1. An OSHA standard is being violated, and
  2. You face a real and apparent hazard if you work under such conditions.

To maximally protect yourself when refusing an unsafe assignment, you should object in writing, explaining what condition you believe is unsafe and that you believe it violates OSHA standards. If your employer offers to resolve the violation (for example, by allowing you to work from home), you are not protected from termination if you refuse a safe assignment. Call a Bay Area retaliation and discrimination attorney at Spencer Young Law for a free consultation if you have questions.

What Are My Rights If I Am Sick?

The California Labor Code requires that employees receive at least 3 days of paid sick leave per year. Your employer must allow you to use your balance of sick leave when you or a family member is ill or in need of medical treatment, although they can place certain caps on how much you use at one time, subject to certain state and local restrictions. Your employer may not retaliate against you or punish you for using your available paid sick leave for an authorized purpose, even when it is inconvenient to them. If you do not have paid sick leave available, and if your employer regularly allows use of vacation or other paid time off to cover periods of illness, they must also allow you to do so. If you have no paid time off available at all, you may be protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Fair Employment and Housing Act, all of which could entitle you to an unpaid leave of absence while protecting you from termination, demotion, reassignment, or retaliation. Call an employment lawyer at Spencer Young Law today if you have any questions about paid or unpaid time off due to illness or disability.

What Are My Options if my Employer Stops Operations or Lays Me Off?

If you are out of work through no fault of your own, you can and should apply for Unemployment Insurance benefits by contacting the Employment Development Department, or EDD. If you are a salaried, exempt employee who is involuntarily furloughed for only part of the workweek, you may be entitled to your full weekly salary. Call an employment attorney at Spencer Young Law for guidance on your options for replacing your income.

What if I Am Involuntarily Quarantined?

A public health official or medical provider may order you to quarantine, even when you would otherwise choose to go to work. Under such circumstances, your employer must allow you to use your paid sick leave if you choose. However, if you would rather take an unpaid leave and preserve your paid sick balance for a later time, you have the right to do so. Your employer may not make this decision for you.

What If I Am Not Sick, But My Employer Treats Me Like I Am Sick?

Your employer, most likely, is not a doctor. Unless you exhibit clear signs of illness, your employer may not substitute their assumptions or opinions for those of qualified professionals. The Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on actual or perceived disability or medical condition. Your employer may not treat you differently than other employees based only on a suspicion that you are sick.

If your employer continues to operate at full capacity and only sends you home from work, you may be the victim of disability discrimination. However, if you are genuinely infectious, your employer may take reasonable steps to avoid danger to others, such as requiring you not to report to work. In such cases, you may still be entitled to reasonable accommodations, including protections for your job security.

My Employer Assumes I Carry COVID-19 Because of my Race or National Origin – What Are My Rights?

Unfortunately, some people incorrectly believe that COVID-19 is caused by or related to a particular race, national origin or ethnicity. In fact, this virus does not discriminate, but some employees do.

COVID-19 poses the same threat to all people worldwide, and no race or ethnic group is more likely than others to carry it or spread it. The Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits any discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, and many other factors. If you are singled out for different treatment, or subject to name-calling or scapegoating because of your race, ethnicity, or national origin, you may be the victim of unlawful discrimination or harassment.

Call an Oakland employment attorney at Spencer Young Law today to learn more about your rights and options in these uncertain times.

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