The Coronavirus or “COVID-19” outbreak has many people worried, and for good reason. It is spreading rapidly and it may soon affect your community, your workplace, and your family. The last thing you want to worry about when the virus hits is what it might mean for your job. But it’s time to start thinking about it.
What if you are diagnosed with the coronavirus? Obviously, you cannot go to work. But if you are an hourly employee without union protection, you are most likely “at will,” which means your employer may be able to terminate you for not showing up, even if you’re sick. There are discussions underway right now about giving workers protection from missing paychecks if they or their family become sick, or if workplaces have to shut down. Things are evolving rapidly.
Here are some things you should know:
- If your employer has 50 or more employees working within a 75-mile radius of your workplace, and if you’ve worked for the employer for at least 12 months for at least 1250 hours during that time, you are protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives you up to 12 weeks off of work (unpaid) for your own illness or that of a family member. Employers with fewer than 50 employees can voluntarily provide the same protection if they choose to.
- If you suspect you have been exposed to the virus you should be tested immediately and let your employer know. Inform your boss or Human Resources contact of your situation and suggest that you should stay away from work until the test results are available. Any responsible employer should agree to let you do that without getting points or being disciplined in any way. However, you may have to use your own PTO or vacation time if you want to be paid for the time you miss.
- Your employer will want to see a doctor’s statement saying you have been diagnosed or at least tested for the disease to excuse you from missing work. Some employers may loosen their normal rules in order to discourage workers from coming to work sick, and every employer would be well-advised to do so. But at this time, there are no special rules or protections in place to protect you from being made to come to work even if you are afraid you might be exposed to the virus. Your employer may expect you to come to work even if you aren’t feeling well, unless you have a doctor’s note stating you are sick.
- Even if you aren’t sick, don’t be surprised if your workplace, or even your city, is shut-down to prevent the spread of the virus.
- The most important things you can do to prevent getting or spreading the virus are:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Stay home when you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces suing a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Unfortunately, many of us can expect to experience a disruption of our normal routines as the coronavirus spreads. With cooperation between workers and employers, we can hope to minimize the financial disruption caused by missing work due to illness. Follow your employer’s rules for calling off sick, staying in touch, providing doctors’ statements, and filling out FMLA paperwork, and be sure to understand your employer’s expectations. If you believe you were unfairly disciplined or targeted because you were exposed to or contracted COVID-19, don’t hesitate to contact an employment lawyer for advice.