Can Your Boss Force You to Go to The Office During COVID?
Mar 26, 2021 09:11 AM EDT
The Covid-19 pandemic hit hard. Many employers across different industries were forced to furlough and even terminate some of their workers.
In the last few months, however, things have started looking up. The economy has opened up, and employers are reaching out and calling back employees. While some are happy to get back to work, a good number has not shied away from expressing their hesitation.
This hesitation is in part due to the pandemic. People are worried about exposing themselves to the virus while on their commute to work or catching the virus from someone at work. Workers with underlying conditions that put them at risk of complications should they catch the virus are especially hesitant. Again, so many would rather stay at home because they make more from their unemployment benefits than they ever could at their jobs.
The Big Question
With that being said, the big question arises, can an employer forcefully recall you to work? No simple yes or no answer for this one, unfortunately. A professional employment lawyer will tell you that it depends on various factors, and this is a highlight of these considerations.
Are You an Essential or Non-Essential Employee?
There are 14 general categories of essential service providers or employees. Not every state recognizes each of these categories, as each state has its criteria for defining an essential employee. Some states have and recognize more than the 14 categories.
Healthcare professionals, water and sanitation workers, first responders, and employees in food and agriculture are among state-recognized essential workers. As an essential employee, your employer can force you back to work. The exceptions are if you are sick from contracting the virus, or otherwise, you have become disabled and therefore enjoy the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or are on a family or medical leave.
Are You Sick?
Your health and safety, as well as that of colleagues and clients you will be interacting with, is crucial. An employer cannot force you to get back to work if you are sick from contracting the virus, or have been exposed to someone with the virus.
This is the reason why employers will insist that you get checked out first to determine whether you are medically fit before resuming your work duties. No employer can force you to get back to work if you have gotten your covid-19 diagnosis or have been exposed to someone with the virus.
Are You High-Risk or Have a Disability?
Under the provisions of the ADA, you qualify and are entitled to being allowed to work remotely among other accommodations if you have a qualifying disability. The employer cannot force you back to work if you have an underlying medical condition that places you at a greater risk of developing complications should you contract coronavirus.
Unless extending you these accommodations would prove to be burdensome on your employer, then you can work remotely and not be forced to go in to work every day.
Are You a Caregiver to Family Affected by the Virus?
Certain classes of employers are required, by law, to grant sick leave, or, as may be necessary, expanded family medical leave to employees dealing with specified Covid-19 related issues, according to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
Among the specified issues include a scenario where you need to care for your child because their school or usual child care facility is closed because of the virus. Your employer may also grant you paid leave if you are caring for a family member who has been advised, or otherwise, ordered by a qualified medical professional to isolate or self-quarantine.
What Does Your Contract Say?
If the stay-at-home order has been lifted and your local area reopened for business, your employer can recall you back to work if your place of work is in an at-will state. An exception to this will be if you are protected against the same by your employment contract. A qualified employment lawyer can look over your contract and advise you accordingly.
Simply Scared Won't Cut It
While understandable, fear of catching the virus is not good enough reason not to go back to work when you are recalled by your employer. Unless you are under contract, are unwell, are caring for your child, or caring for a family member affected by Covid-19, you have no reason not to show up for work when you are required to do so. Under employment law, failure to do so may leave your employer with no option other than to terminate your employment.
As highlighted, whether or not your employer can force you to go back to work depends on various factors. Contact an expert employment lawyer and find out more. You can get insights on what the employment law and any other applicable laws and acts have to say about your specific case.