Know your workplace rights: New laws protect employees during COVID-19 crisis

Updated: Jun. 25, 2020 at 6:48 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Millions of people have been laid off across the country since the coronavirus pandemic hit, but what if you believe you were wrongfully fired because of COVID-19 issues? New federal laws are now in effect to protect your rights in the workplace during the pandemic.

Viewers have been reaching out to 12 On Your Side, saying they’ve been fired after being ordered to quarantine by a doctor, or refusing to go into work out of fear of COVID-19 exposure or unsafe conditions.

One factory worker said even though he had a doctor’s order to quarantine for 14 days after showing symptoms, he was terminated by his manager, anyway. Another viewer said he was fired after not going into work for a period of time, in fear of bringing home the virus to his son with disabilities.

NBC12 contacted employment attorney Scott Oswald with Washington D.C. based Employment Law Group. Oswald said new federal laws protecting people with COVID-19 diagnoses or symptoms were passed on March 18 through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

“It prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee because he’s been sent home sick by his doctor,” said Oswald.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act now requires employers to give up to two weeks of paid sick time if you get the coronavirus or were told to quarantine by a doctor.

Employees also get reduced paid leave, if they have to care for a loved one or child who came down with COVID-19.

If a school or child care provider is closed because of the pandemic, employers must give workers reduced paid leave, as well, for up to three months.

As for workplace safety, employers now must follow new coronavirus guidelines, like social distancing and hygiene practices. If you feel regulations aren’t being followed, or that you’re at heightened risk since you have a pre-existing condition, Oswald said your boss likely has to accommodate your situation.

“The first requirement is there has to be some reasonable basis for your concern,” said Oswald. “You notify your employer of your concerns and specifically request to work from home (if possible), that employer is most likely going to have to grant that accommodation request, or at least engage in a back and forth with you.”

If you have after-effects from COVID-19, the Virginia Values Act, going into effect July 1, requires employers to accommodate future doctor visits and therapy.

Oswald’s advice from the onset of any symptoms is to save all medical documents and send a follow-up email to your manager about any coronavirus-related time off or changes.

“Communicate in writing when possible because then there isn’t any question about what it is that you said, and to whom you said it,” said Oswald.

Oswald also says you have to be willing to try to work out a solution moving forward, like working remotely or moving your desk.

If you’ve already been fired from your job, try sending a notice to your boss citing the news laws to possibly get your position back, or hiring an employment attorney.

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