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Coronavirus: What will happen at work?

On Behalf of | Mar 9, 2020 | Employment Discrimination, Family Medical Leave Claims, National Origin Discrimination, Race Discrimination |

Coronavirus: What will happen at work?


Best Employment Attorney Answer: What Should I do if I’ve been around someone with Coronavirus? Is my workplace required to have a COVID-19 policy? Can I report a co-worker showing symptoms or signs of COVID-19? Do I have to go to work if I suspect that a co-worker or co-workers have coronavirus? Can I be fired for taking time off for coronavirus? Will FMLA cover an absence for myself or family members? Does my work have to report if another employee has Coronavirus? Can my job make a joke about having Coronavirus?

The Coronavirus outbreak, or
COVID-19 has created global chaos and confusion. Little is known about the
virus itself and many businesses are panicking and having trouble developing
sensible workplace policies. With so many questions surrounding what employers
can and can’t do in regards to a global outbreak such as we find ourselves in,
the top Ohio employment law
at The Spitz Law
Firm, LLC
have put together a comprehensive need to know list of answers to
common questions surrounding the virus and its spread.

First question, What does the Coronavirus look like?

In other words, what are the symptoms and signs of the virus? The symptoms begin with respiratory infections an illness, fever, a cough, and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. If you exhibit any of these signs, be sure to seek the help of a healthcare professional.

How does the virus spread?
Coronavirus is spread from others who have the virus. Small droplets from the
nose or mouth of someone who has the virus can be dispersed through coughing or
exhaling. Coming in contact with the droplets with your hands and then rubbing
your hands, mouth, or eye areas can cause the disease to manifest itself.

What is the best way to prevent the spread of the illness?

For the most part, the best way to prevent the spread of Coronavirus is to take all the normal flu-season precautions: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not an option. If you are sick, stay home from work. It is what is best for you and your co-workers. Cover your mouth either with a tissue or your sleeve when you sneeze or cough and encourage others to do the same. Lastly, try to keep a healthy distance from those who are sick.

If an employee appears sick, what
are the employer’s options? Employers are allowed to ask employees to stay home
or leave work if the employee is showing signs of Coronavirus or other
illnesses. Employers are also inclined and allowed to suggest that the employee
seek medical attention or get tested for Coronavirus.

If a co-worker tests positive for
Coronavirus, what should your employer do? In this type of situation with the
Coronavirus being such an epidemic, it is best for your employer to send all
employees home for a 14-day period in order to prevent the spread of the
disease. Your employer cannot under any circumstances, reveal to the staff the
name of the individual who tested positive. As a bonus, your employer should
have the office cleaned.

Can you refuse to go to work because you are afraid of contracting coronavirus?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”) only allows employees to refuse to come in to work if they belief that there is an imminent or immediate threat to their health. The standard for this is rather high, stating in section 13(a) that “imminent danger” means “any conditions or practices in any place of employment which are such that a danger exists which can reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such danger can be eliminated though the enforcement procedures otherwise provided by this Act.” According to OSHA’s policy, this means that you can only refuse to go into work out of fear of the coronavirus if (1) you have asked your boss to address and eliminate the danger (2) you refuse in “good faith” meaning you genuinely believe your life to be in imminent danger (3) a reasonable person in the same position as you would concur that such an imminent threat exists and (4) there isn’t time to correct the danger through the normal OSHA inspection process.

Coronavirus: What will happen at work?


Asian Americans have been facing jokes about coronavirus at work; Is that legal?

Can my co-workers or employer make jokes about coronavirus to me because of my race?

No. This is a form of race discrimination and can open them up for a potential lawsuit. It is also discriminatory practice to assume for any reason that any individual may have Coronavirus simply based on their national origin. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Ohio Revised Code § 4112.01 et seq.  prohibit the discrimination in any way of any employee for any reason based on race/color, national origin, gender/sex, age, or disability. For more information about these types of discrimination, see what the top Ohio employment discrimination attorneys have to say in some of our other blogs (See: Employment Law: What Is Race Discrimination?; Can I Sue If An Employer Will Not Hire Me Because I’m Too Old?; Help! My Boss Harasses Me For My Religious Beliefs; and Do I Have A Disability Discrimination Case?).

Does the Family and Medical Leave Act  (“FMLA”) cover time taken off because of Coronavirus?

As long as you meet the requirements under FMLA which provides that (1) the employee has to have worked for at least 1250 hours in the preceding year, (2) the employer must employ at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius, and (3) the employees can only use the FMLA leave for their own serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Our top employment law lawyers have discussed the FMLA at length in previous blogs (See: Am I Entitled To Paid Sick Leave?; FMLA Retaliation Tips – Call The Right Attorney; My Job Won’t Let Me Back From Medical Leave. Help!; and Can My FMLA Leave Count Against Me At Work?).

Can I be fired for taking time off under the FMLA to help a family member who has Coronavirus? As we have previously blogged about, it is unlawful for employers to terminate or take other adverse employment action against employees who seek to use FMLA leave. If you satisfy the three factors in the above paragraph for FMLA leave, your employer cannot take adverse employment action against you for taking such leave.

Is Coronavirus considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)?

Generally speaking, no. The ADA only considers as a disability those physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities. Although the Coronavirus would substantially limit such activities, the Act was not written for short term illnesses and courts will often not recognize such illnesses as being a disability. For more about the ADA see what the top Ohio employment attorneys have to say. (See: Do I Have A Disability Discrimination Case?; How Do I Get A Medical Accommodation?; and My Employer Will Not Provide Me With A Reasonable Accommodation For My Disability. I Need The Top Disability Discrimination Lawyer In Ohio!).

Coronavirus: What will happen at work?

Disclaimer: The materials available at the top of this page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Your best option is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to legal coronavirus questions or any particular employment law issue. If you are saying, “Can my job make a joke about having Coronavirus? ” or “ Is my workplace required to have a COVID-19 policy?” Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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