When the COVID-19 pandemic began, nobody could have predicted what would happen with both public health and the job market.
You might be currently employed. You might be looking for a new job as the pandemic continues. Either way, now is the time to get answers to your questions about your rights as a worker.
Under normal circumstances, as an employee, you receive workers’ rights. As COVID-19 continues, you are also entitled to workers’ rights. The American workplace needs to be transparent about what those exact rights are.
Worker safety is paramount. That comes from proper COVID-19 precautions and honoring workers’ rights. Here’s what to know about your rights in a pandemic: sick leave, workers’ compensation, and more.
Those Most at Risk
Workers’ rights do mean taking into account those who are most at risk in a public health emergency. The list is extensive, but those most at risk to catch COVID-19 include:
- First responders and healthcare workers
- Grocery store workers
- People who work in transportation
- Immunocompromised workers
- Undocumented immigrants
- Service and maintenance workers
- Airport workers
- People who provide home care
The list goes on. As the country has opened up, more and more are at risk. This does not highlight those who may be at risk due to demographics, though.
Black, indigenous, and other people of color are at a higher risk to catch COVID-19 and how the virus may affect them. This can be due to pre-existing racial disparities in health and healthcare.
This is also due to workers of color at times not given proper workers’ rights. It can leave them vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic in more ways than one.
Paid Leave: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act
You are entitled to paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). There is a catch, though: this is a temporary rule. It lasts from its revision date of September 16, 2020, until December 31, 2020.
The government revised the FFCRA because certain parts of the initial FFCRA were inconsistent. The goal of the FFCRA was to help working families manage health problems related to COVID-19.
The courts interpreted the FFCRA as a “but-for” causal relationship. This means that an employee can take paid sick leave, but only when having a reason that qualifies the need for leave. This gives it a “but-for” reason or cause for the potential sick leave.
This “but-for” cause must be because an employee is unable to work.
Workers’ Rights: Protection, Knowledge, and Implementation
A good employer will protect their employees from threats at all costs. If your position is not one that can work from home, then you may work in-person even during the pandemic.
Protecting Workers and the American Workplace
You may be an essential worker. Perhaps you are a worker returning to in-person work. Regardless, it is important your employer takes the time to protect you and your colleagues from the spread of COVID-19. This includes requiring the following:
- Proper social distancing protocol
- Wearing masks
- Frequently cleaning work surfaces or commonly touched surfaces
- Frequent hand-washing and hand hygiene
The law requires your employer to protect you from dangers like pandemics.
Knowledge of COVID-19 Precautions
Employers must keep workers aware of how to stem the spread of COVID-19, as well as what their workers’ rights are. Employers also need to prepare reasons why they must take the precautions and protections they are.
Employers must share knowledge about pandemics and how COVID-19 operates as a virus. They must also explain how they will protect workers. This helps build trust and ensures workers are safe.
Implementing Worker Safety
Employers must let their employees know where they keep personal protective equipment (PPE). They also need to provide training on how to use it: masks go over the mouth and nose, for example.
When employees no longer need to use PPE for the day, the employer also must make it clear how to safely dispose of PPE.
PPE also extends to the possible construction of plastic barriers between workers. This is especially important if the employer cannot install social distancing measures. It is important to follow these rules to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Your employer should also create a more flexible sick leave policy for COVID-19. Stopping the spread of the virus can depend on if someone has the choice to stay home but remain paid. Forcing employees to work when sick is a super-spreader disaster in the marking.
Workers’ compensation is still an option in the pandemic. If you are a healthcare worker or first responder, then you need a good workers’ compensation option. This is because you are in possible contact with COVID-19 patients.
Washington state was one of the first states to guarantee worker’s compensation. They did so for quarantined healthcare workers exposed to COVID-19. This workers’ compensation includes medical testing and expenses, as well as payments for work time lost.
Workers who contract COVID-19 still need to prove that they were exposed while at work. Exposure cannot be passive exposure to the virus or exposure via the general public. If you cannot prove this, you may not be able to receive COVID-19 workers’ compensation.
Contact an employment lawyer if your employer is not transparent about public health safety.
Stay Safe and Stay Aware of Your Rights
Workers’ rights will protect you, your colleagues, and your workplace in the long run. That said, it is important your employer also keeps you and other workers updated about the COVID-19 pandemic.
This guide is not comprehensive. However, it provides you a starting place for worker safety. This is what American workplace safety in the American workplace should look like during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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