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Employee Rights During The COVID-19 Pandemic

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Sherwood Law Group and its attorneys are constantly updating its clients about their rights during these uncertain times and in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. So, what are your rights as an employee regarding COVID-19 and its wide array of changes? Below is a breakdown where we try to answer some of those questions. As always, for questions or inquiries do not hesitate to contact Sherwood Law Group at 312.627.1650 or info@sherwoodlawgroup.com.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown millions of Illinois workers into one of two scenarios. Some are out of work indefinitely, while others have been deemed “essential” and must report to work during a time when government officials have issued “stay at home” orders for everyone else.

So, what exactly are you’re rights if you’re one of these workers who must report to work?
 
My employer says I have to come in to work, but I’m at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications, I live with someone who is at risk, or I don’t feel safe going to work. So, what can I do? 

First, you can and should request to work from home if you work for an employer where working from home is a possibility. If working from home is not an option, you can use sick leave if you have it or can request leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act which was expanded to include some paid leave during the pandemic. You can also request accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act which will largely depend on if your health condition or risk factor is considered a disability. For example, Diabetes is considered a disability however being over the age of sixty (60) likely would not be considered a disability. Finally, in Chicago, employees have a public health mandate to refuse to come to work if they display any symptoms of COVID-19. As a result, if you or a loved one have begun to show signs affiliated with COVID-19, it is advised that you communicate this with your employer as a means of keeping you and your coworkers safe.

What if none of those options work for me. Do I have any other options?

Talking to your coworkers about their concerns speaking with your employer about your collective concerns should always be your first step in making your work environment safer for everyone on the job. It’s very important that you talk to your coworkers about their concerns so that you as an employee are protected under the National Labor Relations Act, which details that employees who collectively join together with coworkers to improve working conditions cannot be retaliated against or terminated for such action. The law should protect individuals who are acting in individually in the best interest of their coworkers. For example, if an employee knows that coworkers are concerned about a lack of protective gear and chooses to contact their employer about their concerns, that employee should be protected.

What if I can’t come to an agreement with my employer about safe working conditions and I’m too concerned to work, will my job be protected?

Ultimately, it depends. Union members or employees traditionally have “just-cause” protection in their contracts meaning they can only be fired or terminated for “cause” which allows them to challenge what they believe to be an unfair firing. However, most employees throughout Illinois and the U.S. are “at-will” employees, meaning they can be fired for any reason at any time except for on the basis of certain protected categories like age and race. One possible exception is if you believe you were fired because of a disability that made you unable to work during the pandemic, that could be a violation of the ADA but it must be a condition that is considered a “disability” under the ADA.

What are my employers’ obligations toward me as an employee if I am out sick or home due to office closure?

Typically, employees who are not working are not entitled to wages under federal law. However, new federal legislation provides ten (10) days of paid leave for eligible employees of covered employers to take for certain COVID-19 related reasons, including for employees who have already exhausted previously-offered paid leave. Employees of covered employers who are taking leave due to a child’s school closing or lack of childcare are also entitled to partially paid leave for up to ten (10) weeks. Employees who report to work and then are sent home under certain circumstances may be entitled to partial pay. Furthermore, in Chicago, employers must allow employees to use earned sick time to care for children if schools are closed due to an emergency declaration.

What if I quit or get fired because I refused to work in unsafe conditions, can I apply for unemployment?

Yes, you can. However, you must have tried to keep your job which means that you need to bring up your concerns with your employer and put them in writing to ensure they are both memorialized and documented.

For any employment related questions like the above or whether the terms of your employment contract are being violated it is always a good idea to seek a consultation with an attorney. Our office will always give a free consultation pertaining to all employment matters dealing with Covid 19, contracts, discrimination, harassment or any other employment related question or inquiry. As always, contact Sherwood Law Group at 312.627.1650 or info@sherwoodlawgroup.com for a consultation.

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