Can I Refuse to Return to Work if My Office Isn’t Enforcing Social Distancing Guidelines?

New York City Lawyers Advising Employees

COVID-19 has presented substantial concerns to both individuals and businesses alike. Among other things, New York City has enacted social distancing requirements to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Unfortunately, some employers have not taken these requirements seriously. If you are wondering whether you can refuse to return to work if your office is not enforcing social distancing guidelines, you should call the experienced New York City employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates.

Bryan Arce

Can I Refuse to Return to Work if My Office Is Not Enforcing Social Distancing Guidelines?

COVID-19 is typically spread by infected people who are within about six feet of others. It spreads through the drops that are sprayed when somebody who is infected coughs, sneezes, or talks. People who are asymptomatic can also spread the virus. It might be possible to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth. However, it is less common for the virus to spread this way than through person-to-person contact.

In response to the pandemic, New York State requires people to maintain social distancing in public. The COVID-19 virus will have fewer opportunities to spread that way. To socially distance, you are supposed to keep six feet away from non-family members, this includes coworkers. New York’s rules are constantly shifting, but in general, large groups are not supposed to gather in the city or the state. Your employer should not require you to come to work if you cannot keep six feet away from your coworkers.

This means that your employer should not require you to be involved in company sports activities. Businesses that are allowed to be open, but that do not comply with necessary restrictions, may be reported to the city.

The issue becomes more important where an employee is at a higher risk of contracting the virus; either due to a disability, a certain health condition, and/or pregnancy. I these situations, where an employee is at higher risk, and the employer is not following proper safety protocols, it may be a necessity to refuse return to work in the office. Similarly, where an employer is not social distancing, but requiring employees to wear a mask, you may feel that you have to refuse to return to work because, due to a disability or bona fide religious belief, you cannot wear a mask, as well as not being able to social distance yourself from co-workers.

The Interactive Process and the Cooperative Dialogue

If you have a medical problem that would worsen, or a religious belief that would be violated, if you returned to work, and your employer is not following the proper safety protocols, you generally have to inform your employer. You can ask for a reasonable medical or religious accommodation (such at telecommuting or being placed in a different location. You should be able to get an accommodation, provided that it does not create an undue hardship to the company. Therefore, the employer is required to have a dialogue with you to discuss any work options or accommodations. Furthermore, you should not be retaliated against or harassed for requesting such an accommodation.

Contact Our Experienced Employment Litigators

If your office is not enforcing social distancing guidelines, and you are being required to return to work, you should consult our experienced trial attorneys. At Phillips & Associates, we may be able to represent you. We assist workers in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties, as well as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Call us at (866) 229-9441 or complete our online form.

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