Even though the official Department of Labor report stated that the number of unemployed workers has dropped to 21 million in June 2020, the situation in the US job market is still frightening. Especially when the number of unemployment claims is in discrepancy with the one in the official report. Namely, this data shows that 30 million people have lost their jobs so far due to the devastating impact of the COVID19 crisis and social distancing measures on the American economy. Losing a job is the major problem workers have to deal with, besides staying safe and healthy amid this crisis. Therefore, this article will answer the burning question of workers’ rights during this unprecedented crisis to help them overcome this difficult period.
One of the first measures implemented in the response of COVID19 was enabling workers to work from home. Here, you will find everything you need to know about this right. However, as the Bureau of Statistics survey showed, only 30% of workers were able to work remotely. Therefore we will inform employees who are unable to leave their workplace about various options of paid emergency sick leave and family leave the FFCR Act has provided as forms of financial benefits.
Also, employees who have been fired due to the COVID19 reasons will have the right to apply for three different federally funded unemployment insurance benefit programs. These unemployment benefits accompanied by the usual state UI should support the unemployed through these challenging times. This article will also indicate the employees’ rights once the company re-opens and proceeds with business operations.
Safety and health protection in the workplace are the essential concerns of employees who can not work remotely. Thus, this article will address the rights related to working in a safe and protected work environment.
The Right to Reasonable Accommodation
According to the extended Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA), employers should encourage workers to work remotely to prevent Coronavirus from spreading. The American Disability Act recognized teleworking as one of the reasonable accommodation forms for people in need. For this reason, employers should encourage workers with higher risks of contracting this dangerous respiratory virus. Employers do not have the right to ask workers whether they suffer from some underlying condition that makes you more susceptible to contracting this respiratory virus. On the other hand, they need to enable employees at a higher risk of contractin coronavirus, along with workers who need enhanced precaution measures, to work from home.
So if you have asthma, type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, obesity, or a cardiovascular condition, you can require your employer to provide you reasonable accommodation (i.e., let you work from home). Workers that need extended precaution measures are workers from racial and minority groups like Alaska Indians, African Americans, and Hispanoamericans. Unfortunately, these people are mostly unable to perform their work duties from home. This causes minority workers to become more exposed to the harmful virus and raises numerous discrimination issues. Pregnant women and people with disabilities also fall into this group and need to be enabled to work from home.
As the BLS statistic showed, around 70% of workers in the United States cannot perform their jobs from home. For this reason, the FFCR Act has provided paid emergency sick leave and paid leave under the extended FMLA. Here is what types of paid leave workers have right to during the COVID pandemic:
- Two weeks of paid sick leave for workers that have been tested positive to coronavirus and ordered to quarantine by federal, state, or local government, and those whose doctors advised them to self-isolate. The same rule applies to employees experiencing Coronavirus symptoms and seeking medical help.
- Two weeks of paid leave for taking care of family members or other persons infected with the coronavirus. Employees who need to take care of children because schools and childcare facilities have shut down due to the COVID19 pandemic also can apply for this financial support.
- Workers who have been with a company for more than 30 days have the right to ask for an additional ten weeks of paid leave to care for children due to schools and daycare closures.
If your company employs 50 workers or less, your employer may be exempt from this last rule because this prolonged absence from work may endanger business operations.
Safety and Protection Related Employee Rights
According to the extended OSHA guidance regarding safety and health protection from the coronavirus effect, your employer is required to provide appropriate personal protection equipment. This Coronavirus PPE includes cotton face masks, N-95 respirator masks, and plexiglass barriers between workstations. If you feel that your PPE is inappropriate, or your employer failed to provide designated personal protection equipment, you may refuse to perform your duties because of the exposure to an imminent health threat.
Also, you can file a complaint to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration if you believe your employer does not comply with the OSHA guidelines to ensure workers’ protection. Here are some other essential guidelines on preparing the workplace for the COVID 19 pandemic that employers need to comply with:
- Providing physical distance between workers is a crucial measure in coronavirus prevention. Therefore, employers need to provide a minimal six feet of distance between workers.
- Employers need to provide sufficient amounts of hand sanitizers. If soap and water are not available at the worksite, you should have hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Perform consistent disinfection to keep the premises, equipment, and work surfaces clean.
- Enable natural ventilation of the workplace.
- Clean and disinfect facilities exposed to the coronavirus, since it can survive on surfaces from several hours to days.
The Rights of the Unemployed
There are many businesses across America that have decided to shut down and fire employees because they would not survive adverse COVID19 impact. Employees who have been fired, furloughed, or have lost jobs because of a company’s shutdown have rights to specific unemployed benefits. The CARES Act devised these unemployment insurance programs to help unemployed workers go through this difficult period.
- Pandemic Unemployment Compensation
All workers who apply for this UI program by July 31st, 2020, will receive calculated provisions with an additional $600 every week. Workers using the state-provided unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance may also apply for this financial benefit.
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
Most American federal states, including New York, participate in the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program, offering up to 39 weeks of unemployment insurance to workers who have lost their jobs. This unemployment insurance plan provides 13 weeks of paid insurance to those who have already used their state-provided UI. People need to search actively for work to qualify for this benefit. However, states may show flexibility regarding this requirement due to the unfavorable COVID19 circumstances.
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a financial support plan devised for those who have used up other unemployment insurance options, regular and extended, or not included in the regular state UI program. PUA insurance will cover up to 39 weeks for all employees who qualify for this benefit immediately. Workers targeted by this UI program are self-employed independent contractors, freelancers, and people seeking part-time jobs. Namely, this applies to all employees not covered by the regular, state-funded UI. Employees need to fulfill certain conditions if they want to apply for extended UI benefits in New York:
- Their previous wages need to be above the determined minimal threshold.
- They need to seek new employment actively.
- They need reliable evidence that they have lost their job due to coronavirus-related circumstances. Therefore, feel free to require all the necessary documentation to back up your UI application. If you fail to meet these requirements, your claim for emergency UI programs will be denied.
This article highlighted the rights of workers during this severe Coronavirus crisis. It focused first on the right of disabled workers and people from other vulnerable groups to reasonable accommodation. Then it presented forms of paid leaves provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Furthermore, this article addressed essential workers’ rights related to safety and protection during the COVID19 pandemic. Workers who have lost their jobs will find various federal-funded UI programs they can apply for.
Are you feeling unsafe about going to work and contracting the virus? Do you have questions about paid sick time, medical leave, workplace safety amid the coronavirus pandemic, and taking action against an employer who is denying your rights and failing to fulfill employer obligations? If you have additional questions regarding employees’ rights amid the coronavirus pandemic, please contact Cilenti & Cooper wage and hour firm.