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NextGen Magazine


On Dealing with an Intransigent Employer

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Mar 26, 2020
While millions of Americans are staying home and taking other special precautions to avoid the coronavirus pandemic, some are faced with employers that are attempting to bull rush through the crisis without regard to safety, leading some workers to wonder what to do in such cases. The Wall Street Journal asked a panel of employment lawyers and human resources experts about actions that workers can take.

The panelists recommended first phrasing one's needs as a request rather a demand and seeking understanding; if the employer still won't budge, they said to suggest a compromise, such as taking a shift that has fewer people. But in the event that an employee has a note from a doctor saying that the employee should not be in the office, the experts recommended filing a complaint with the either the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission or the state equivalent. But they also said that mentioning the Americans with Disability Act might be enough to convince one's employer to provide at least some flexibility.

If someone must be at work, such as due to being part of an essential service, federal law also requires that the employer provide a safe workplace, which could include protective gear such as masks and gloves. On the other hand, if the employer has done work to minimize the risk of exposure, even if it asks someone to take a reasonable risk, then it would be within its rights to fire someone who refuses. Further, those without a contract can be sent home without pay for any reason not explicitly prohibited by law.

The Journal noted that if an employer, knowing that a worker has been exposed or is sick, still requires that person to work and risk exposing others, then the employer could face civil and criminal liability.