If you’ve been working from home for the past year, you may be wondering what your rights and responsibilities are as employers gear up for a return to the workplace. You’re not alone. Many employees are wondering what going back to work will look like after COVID-19 and asking questions like “Will I have to return to the office?”
Although the situation is still developing, we’ve used the most up-to-date information from around the web to answer some of your most pressing questions. Keep reading to learn more.
Do I Have to Go Back to the Office?
Many employers want employees back in the office, but some have adopted a more flexible return policy. When your office opens, you should follow your employer’s instructions on going back to work. Your employer may offer permanent work from home, ask you to come back to the office full time, or offer a hybrid structure where you come into the office some days and work from home on other days.
What If I’m Scared?
General fear of COVID-19 is not a valid reason to refuse to return to the workplace, at least according to Newsweek and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Under state and federal laws, employers must take safety precautions to protect their employees, including but not limited to requiring face masks, staggering shifts, practicing social distancing, and enhancing cleaning protocol.
If you are worried about COVID-19, ask your boss or HR department what your employer is doing to keep you safe. If your employer does not have an answer or otherwise fails to protect you from COVID-19, you can file a safety and health complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). You never have to work in an unsafe environment, and employers cannot terminate you for filing a complaint or otherwise keeping yourself safe from unmitigated workplace hazards.
What If I Have a Medical Condition?
If you have a medical condition covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your employer must offer accommodations to help you return to work safely or place you on a leave of absence. Thanks to the ADA, employees with medical conditions may be able to work remotely until it is safe for them to return.
What About My Kids?
Caring for your children while schools are closed is a valid reason to delay your return to work. If you cannot return to work because you need to take care of family members, you may be eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to protect your job.
Can my employer require me to get the COVID-19 vaccine and require proof?
In short, yes. The EEOC has issued guidance indicating that employers can require that employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment, with some exceptions. Likewise, employers can require proof of vaccination status.
Can I Get Fired for Refusing to Go Back to the Office?
Whether or not your boss can fire you for refusing to go back to work depends on why you have chosen not to return to the office. If you refuse to return without a reason or explanation, your employer can fire you or determine that you quit per the company’s termination policy.
Nevertheless, your employer must provide a safe, OSHA-compliant workplace and offer you reasonable accommodations under the ADA, the FMLA.
Failure to adhere to these laws or retaliatory actions towards individuals who have legally valid reasons for delaying their return to the office can be construed as disability discrimination or wrongful termination.
If you feel you have been discriminated against or retaliated against, please contact Donati Law, PLLC. We have over 35 years of experience handling employment law cases, and our team is paying close attention to how COVID-19 affects the workplace and the laws surrounding it.
Make your case our cause by calling us at (901) 209-5500 or contacting us online today.