As you read about the spread of Covid-19 (a.k.a. "the coronavirus"), you understandably might want to turn into a hermit.
When it comes to your own time, that may not be hard to do. You could stock up on groceries, catch up on your reading, and binge-watch "Better Call Saul."
When it comes to your work time, though, your employer might have other ideas. You may have a job where there's no work-from-home option. And even if there is, your employer might have good reason to need you there in the workplace.
If so, keep in mind that you have a right to reasonable expectations that your employer or manager is doing everything they can to safeguard you and your colleagues.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act's General Duty Clause requires employers to maintain a safe workplace for all workers. It also requires employers to identify any hazards that workers might face. In the case of Covid-19, that means they need to assess whether workers may encounter someone who is infected with the virus. It also means that employers and supervisors should keep watch for any possible signs of its presence in the workplace.
OSHA is providing guidance to employers on what to do if they suspect that an employee is infected. These steps include:
It's usually wise to support employer efforts to balance safety with productivity at a time when a pandemic may develop. But it's also wise to keep in mind that you have rights as an employee no matter what.
These rights are generally spelled out in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). As it turns out, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had the foresight a few years back to issue a lengthy advisory on how a pandemic might impact ADA workplace protections. Here are a few key points:
Workplace lawyers, meanwhile, have been debating potential gray areas that might emerge if Covid-19 becomes a pandemic.
For instance, what happens if an employee contracts the illness from exposure to a co-worker? Can the company be held liable for that? In an article for HR Daily Advisor, attorney Jo Ellen Whitney answered that it's an open question. “I think it is unlikely," she said, "but pandemic issues have not been well-litigated."
Let's hope that it doesn't get that far for anyone.