Frequently Asked Questions Related to Employment and COVID-19

New York City Attorneys Protecting the Rights of Workers

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised some unique questions under federal, state, and local employment laws. As a worker, you may be confused about what your rights are. You may not be able to trust what your employer tells you about its obligations during the pandemic. At Phillips & Associates, our New York City employment attorneys are ready to protect your rights. Here are some of the questions that often arise related to employment and the pandemic.

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

In New York, people are required to maintain social distancing in public and in the workplace. Your office should enforce social distancing guidelines, and you are entitled to tell your manager about your concerns if you see that these guidelines are not being enforced. While this does not mean that there will be no adverse employment action, you are protected against discrimination and retaliation [link to retaliation page] under the law; in other words, if your employer takes an adverse employment action against you, you could potentially pursue legal action under whistleblower or anti-discrimination laws. You also can inform the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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Does My Employer Have to Offer a Work From Home Option During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

There is no general rule that an employer must offer a work from home option during the pandemic. However, employers may need to provide a work from home option as a reasonable accommodation [link to reasonable accommodations page] if you are pregnant or suffering from a disability.

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Can My Employer Just Fire Me Because of the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Employers are entitled to close their businesses and lay off or terminate employees for non-discriminatory reasons. In many cases, your employment is at-will. This means that your employer can fire you for an arbitrary reason. However, your employer cannot terminate [link to wrongful termination page] you in violation of employment laws.

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Can My Employer Fire Me for Not Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine?

It depends on the circumstances. Some people are not able to get the COVID-19 vaccine due to their underlying medical conditions. Employers should engage in a process of determining whether you need a reasonable accommodation for a disability, religious practice, or pregnancy, rather than simply terminating you. However, employers also have an obligation to follow federal, state, and local laws related to keeping the workplace safe.

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What if I Have a Medical Condition, and I am Afraid to Come to Work Because of the Pandemic?

If your medical condition counts as a disability under local, state, or federal laws, you may be able to ask for a reasonable accommodation for the disability. A disability is defined differently under each of the laws that prohibit disability discrimination.

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What if I am Pregnant and Afraid to Come to Work During the Pandemic Because of My Baby?

You may be able to request a reasonable accommodation, such as working from home, from your employer under state or local law. Your employer should provide the accommodation unless doing so would pose an undue hardship.

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Can My Employer Fire Me Due to the Pandemic Just Because I am Pregnant?

No. Your employer should not discriminate against you because you are pregnant. It is illegal for a New York employer to terminate you due to your pregnancy even during the pandemic, when pregnant workers are at greater risk of suffering from severe illness due to COVID-19.

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Is There Any Accommodation that I can Receive Based on My Pregnancy During the Pandemic?

Yes, in New York City, you are entitled to a reasonable accommodation based on your pregnancy, even if your pregnancy is not disabling. There are many different accommodations that may be appropriate, including working from home, working in a separate space, additional personal protective equipment, or a different work shift. The exception to the general rule that you are entitled to a reasonable accommodation is when it presents an undue hardship for the employer.

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Am I Entitled to Overtime if I am Working from Home?

Yes. If you were entitled to overtime while working in your employer’s place of business, you are still entitled to it when you work from home. It may be a little trickier to keep track of your hours, but you should still get paid under the same wage and hour laws.

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Can My Employer or Co-Workers Make Demeaning or Derogatory Comments Because I am Chinese or Other Asian National Origin?

Demeaning or derogatory remarks based on your Chinese or other Asian national origins [link to national origin discrimination against Chinese, Asian Americans page] are illegal. You should report harassing conduct to your employer. Your employer should not retaliate against you or take any adverse employment action against you for reporting harassment.

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Can My Employer Fire Me Because I am Higher Risk for a Severe Case of COVID-19 Due to My Age?

Age discrimination in employment is illegal under local, state, and federal laws. The New York City Human Rights Law, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) remain in place during COVID-19. Thus, your employer cannot terminate you because of your age.

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Contact Our Experienced Employment Litigation Attorneys

If you are concerned about your employment during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the experienced trial attorneys at Phillips & Associates may be able to assist you. We represent clients 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) 530-4330 or complete our online form.

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