COVID-19 has had an enduring effect on employment relationships. Employees have been forced to deal with difficult, unique circumstances, including terminations. Recently, Steven Fingerhut, a partner at Phillips & Associates, published an article in Lawyer Monthly on what an employee should understand when it comes to termination during the pandemic. If you are concerned about your rights at work during the pandemic, you should consult Mr. Fingerhut and the New York City employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates.
Employment Discrimination During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In his article, Mr. Fingerhut wrote about how many employees who usually work regular, full-time hours have needed to assume childcare responsibilities during their typical work hours because of a reduction in access to school and daycare during the pandemic. Employees have also needed to care for sick or elderly family members and friends who may be high risk for contracting COVID-19. The pandemic has also brought other types of stress and anxiety, independent of caregiving responsibilities.
Employees are protected by city and state statutes, along with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). These laws balance the needs of businesses struggling to stay alive, with employee protections. No one should lose their job because they have been infected with COVID-19 and need to quarantine and isolate. However, despite legal protections, there are certain questions that arise in connection with the virus and employment. Sometimes workers need to quarantine because they may have been exposed, and they are not able to do remote work. In other cases, employees need to care for children or high-risk elderly relatives. There may be job protections under the FFCRA.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act
The FFCRA gives workers job-protected paid time off for circumstances beyond their own infection with COVID-19. When an employee tests negative for COVID-19, but a doctor advises them to quarantine because they may have been exposed, they may be able to take paid time off. Similarly, if a parent needs to work from home because their child was in class with someone who tested positive for coronavirus for instance, and the class needs to move online, the FFCRA permits paid time off. Parents may be able to get a maximum of 80 hours of paid sick leave, either at their regular rate of pay or at a percentage of their regular rate of pay, to take care of their child who needs to be home but cannot be left alone. Employees who have worked for their employer for a minimum of 30 days may also be entitled to 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave.
Unemployment insurance benefits have expanded significantly during the pandemic. Employees who do not want to go back to work during the pandemic, but do not qualify for protection under the FFCRA, may need to file for unemployment insurance benefits.
Employee Rights During the Re-Opening of New York
The FFCRA also regulates employees’ return to their workplaces. There are guidelines that enforce mask-wearing and social distancing practices. Guidelines also restrict office occupancy well below capacity, set up a system within which employees certify each day that they are not at risk and have not been exposed, and require employers to put up notices to let employees know how the FFCRA protects them. Employees are supposed to have their temperatures taken every day to confirm that they are not at risk of infection and do not display symptoms. Employers are obliged to make sure that an employee’s confidential medical information is not sent out or saved. Although employers should take employees’ temperatures, they should not save or record and file those temperatures.
There have been massive layoffs and downsizing during the pandemic. Although Courts often defers to employers regarding legitimate business decisions made to stay afloat, employers do not have unchecked power to target employees for termination due to their protected traits. Employees may be able to sue for wrongful termination if they have been targeted for termination because they have a protected characteristic, such as age, race, sex, pregnancy, or disability. In most cases, mass layoffs are not carried out such that they support wrongful termination lawsuits. In some instances, though, employers have used the pandemic as a scapegoat when the true reason for a termination is unlawful.
Consult an Employment Discrimination Attorney
The relationship between your job protections and your unique circumstances requires a careful legal analysis. If you think that your job was jeopardized because you needed to follow quarantine guidelines, or you suspect discrimination, you should seek legal counsel. Steven Fingerhut and the other seasoned attorneys at Phillips & Associates may be able to help you. They provide legal representation to workers in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County, as well as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Call them at (866) 229-9441 or complete their online form.