The coronavirus pandemic presents not only a serious threat to public health but also the global economy. Besides the constant fear for their health, workers now have to face various challenges at the workplace because of the adverse impact of COVID19 on businesses. For this reason, employees need to explore and protect their rights regarding financial benefits, safety, and protection in the workplace.
They also need to be informed on the various employment laws, as well as what they should do in case their company closes and they lose their jobs. Unfortunately, statistics show that almost 40 million workers in the US experienced this worst-case scenario in May. Losing a job amid the coronavirus crisis is much more challenging than in a regular situation because it is much harder to find another job due to restrictive COVID19 measures and the struggling economy. The lack of consistent income may have severe existential consequences, like eviction or foreclosures. On the other hand, many company owners have declared bankruptcy because the coronavirus lockdown has destroyed their businesses.
For all these reasons, working people need employee rights lawyer guidance and advice to overcome all the adversities the coronavirus has caused and make the most of their current situation. They also need to be able to identify whether they have been wrongfully terminated because of business interruption due to COVID19.
This article aims to answer the burning questions related to employee rights during COVID19, describing situations when you may need professional help and guidance to enforce these rights.
Employers Rights at the Workplace
Let’s tackle the issue of paid sick leaves that employers are required to provide workers during the coronavirus pandemic. This is a critical question for workers increasingly exposed to the harmful virus at their workplaces. Besides frontline healthcare providers, there are workers in factories, restaurants, delivery services, retail outlets, and many other industries who cannot work from home that need to take a paid leave to prevent the spread of COVID19.
● Employer Policies on Paid and Unpaid Leaves
Numerous business owners offer their workers longer paid leave than what is specified in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Namely, in regular circumstances, the FMLA provides twelve weeks of unpaid medical leave a year, while some employers may offer up to six months of unpaid leave for medical reasons. Federal and state legislation does not require employers to provide paid leaves. However, many companies offer several weeks of paid leave to their staff over the year.
The coronavirus outbreak called for introducing emergency measures regarding paid sick and family leaves. Thus, the FMLA has provided 12 weeks of paid leave for workers diagnosed with coronavirus to self-isolate and prevent the spread of this harmful respiratory virus. In addition, the same act provided up to 26 weeks of paid leave for taking care of a child due to the shutdown of schools and child care facilities. You will also get this financial benefit if you care for a family member infected with the coronavirus.
If the employer fails to provide these paid leaves or decides to unlawfully terminate them, feel free to seek employee rights lawyer’s assistance, and file a claim to the relevant legislative body. The same goes for the workers who have experienced workplace discrimination because they used this financial benefit or filed a complaint related to these benefits.
● Disability Benefits and Workers’ Compensation Related to COVID-19
One of the first business responses to this unprecedented global health threat was to cancel all non-essential business travels. However, some employers were exposed to the virus during business travels before the worldwide pandemic declaration and the introduction of these measures. If you are one of these workers who was infected during a business trip, you may wonder whether you have a right to workers’ compensation. Bear in mind that this kind of compensation goes to workers injured in the workplace or on their way to work. Therefore, a cold, flu, or some other respiratory infection similar to coronavirus do not qualify workers for this compensation under New York state law, even if you became ill while working.
Healthcare providers experiencing daily exposure to this dangerous virus may be an exception to this rule. However, an employee rights attorney may be able to clarify this ambiguous issue to you.
Personal Protective Equipment in the Workplace
The coronavirus outbreak reminded workers and employers of the importance of wearing appropriate PPE at work. Before this pandemic, workers rarely consider wearing it. Now, providing a sufficient amount of appropriate protective equipment has become a life-saving matter. This is especially true for the frontline doctors and nurses who often become infected or die due to the lack of appropriate personal protective equipment. New OSHA guidance now obligates employers to provide reliable protective equipment to ensure workers’ safety during the COVID crisis. Pieces of necessary personal protection equipment used to stop the spread of the virus are cloth face masks, N-95 respirator masks, and plexiglass barriers. The employer needs to provide protective equipment corresponding to the workplace risk of exposure to Coronavirus. The higher the risk of infection, the more protection the employer needs to provide.
If you are in a workplace with a high risk of exposure to coronavirus, and the employer has not provided appropriate PPE you can use to protect yourself, you can refuse to perform your duties. You should also convey your concerns about the lack of reliable PPT and file a complaint to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration if your employer continues with this malpractice. An employee rights lawyer may provide valuable guidance in filing this complaint and further proceedings.
Unemployment Benefits in the New York State
According to the CARES Act passed into law on March 28th, 2020, every employee fired due to reasons related to the coronavirus may apply for one of three extended emergency unemployment insurances.
However, there are some reasonable requirements employees need to fulfill to qualify for this federal-funded financial support. In New York, you can apply for these substantial financial benefits if you got laid-off, or your wages and hours have been reduced due to the negative impact of coronavirus. Also, you may get this extended unemployment insurance if you have contracted the Coronavirus and are ordered to self-isolate by federal, state, or local governments. People who are not able or available to work because they are taking care of a child or a family member with COVID19 are also eligible for these unemployment benefits. If you quit your job without meeting these requirements, your application for the CARES extended benefits will be denied.
Also, your earnings have to meet the specific minimal threshold, your firing needs to be related to the Coronavirus crisis, and you need to seek employment actively. If you fulfill all these conditions, you may file a UI claim. New York state has provided online application services, along with a landline phone number.
Once you file your claim, it will be reviewed by the New York Department of Labor to determine your eligibility and send you a Monetary Determination to notify you of the outcome. An employment lawyer may help you appeal in case your unemployment insurance claim gets denied. If this happens, you can file a Request of Reconsideration, which the agency will review and determine whether to issue a revised determination process. However, if you have been denied for some other reason and want to appeal, be prepared for a hearing before a judge. As you can see, this process can be lengthy and may require an employment attorney’s assistance and guidance.
Eviction and foreclosure claims have come as one of the most ominous effects of the coronavirus on the US economy. Unemployed workers who rent their homes are struggling to avoid eviction and keep roofs over their heads. New York’s governor extended the eviction ban that expired on May 7th, to August 20th, 2020. This ban protects people from being evicted during this period. It also allows renters to use their security deposits as rent payment, and it prevents landlords from imposing late fees on unpaid rents. On the other hand, this moratorium expires in August, and renters will need a professional lawyer’s help to tackle eviction claims if they cannot pay their debt. The federal government also declared a moratorium on the initiation and continuation of foreclosure proceedings as one of the measures to curb negative economic effects of COVID19.
As the United States economy suffers irreversible adverse effects of COVID19, employees face various severe issues that need to be tackled. This article provides you with essential information about situations when you can use a professional employee rights agent to help you receive benefits or protect your rights. Do you worry about workplace safety and health due to COVID19, and has your employer forced you to come to work, causing a hostile work environment? Do you want to know your rights as an employee if your medical diagnosis is COVID19 positive?
If you are one of the many who have been affected by this unprecedented health and economic crisis, feel free to reach out to Cilenti & Cooper law firm for employment law questions on fair pay, minimum wage rights, hour laws, severance agreement, and the protections act or the Coronavirus Response Act. Now is the time to seek professional legal assistance and know your rights amid the COVID19 pandemic.