Can My Employer Fire Me if I Feel Uncomfortable at Work Due to COVID-19?
Various measures have been put into place to protect workers during COVID-19. Employers are required to take safety and health measures when allowing workers to come back on site. This includes providing face coverings, requiring social distancing, making handwashing and sanitizing stations available, and ensuring frequent cleaning and disinfection. Even if your employer is taking these precautions, you may find yourself worried and uncomfortable in the workplace. If you are wondering whether your employer can fire you because you are uncomfortable at work due to COVID-19, you should discuss your situation with the New York City wrongful termination lawyers at Phillips & Associates.Can My Employer Fire Me if I Feel Uncomfortable at Work Due to COVID-19?
Employment is at-will in New York. This means that your employer can terminate you for reasons that you find arbitrary or unfair. Your employer does not need to have a reason for terminating you. Likewise, you can choose to leave your employer for any reason. However, your employer cannot terminate you for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. Your employer cannot terminate you because you have a protected characteristic, such as race, national origin, disability, gender, religion, or age. For example, your employer cannot terminate you because you are Asian-American, and your employer associates Asian-American people with the coronavirus. Additionally, your employer cannot terminate you because you requested reasonable accommodations at work for a disability.
Although your employer can terminate you if you refuse to follow workplace safety and health rules, it cannot enforce those rules in a discriminatory fashion.Retaliation
If you are uncomfortable at work because your employer is not taking appropriate coronavirus precautions or following laws, you are entitled to bring this up with your employer. The New York Whistleblower Law prohibits your employer from terminating or taking another retaliatory action against you because you disclosed to your supervisor or a public body that your employer is engaged in an illegal activity, practice, or policy that poses a substantial and particular danger to public health or safety. To receive protection under the whistleblower law, you must not only disclose the illegal activity, policy, or practice to a public body but also bring it to the attention of your supervisor. Your employer should provide a reasonable opportunity to correct the situation.Working From Home
In general, there is no right to work from home and employers may set the terms of your employment. However, if you are pregnant, or have an underlying disability that puts you at high risk for severe illness during COVID-19, you may be able to obtain the option of working from home as a reasonable accommodation. Each situation is different. Your employer does not need to provide this accommodation if it would pose an undue hardship on it. On the other hand, your employer cannot force specific people to work from home because of a perceived or actual disability. This could be construed as discrimination; an adverse employment action based on that person's disability.The Families First Coronavirus Response Act
If you meet certain criteria, you may not need to feel uncomfortable at work; you may be able to obtain a reasonable accommodation for a disability or religious practice, such as working from home or taking leave. Your employer may have a policy that allows for paid leave if you need to take time off from work in connection with an illness or disability. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), certain employees who work for employers with fewer than 500 employees may take a maximum of 80 hours of emergency sick leave.Consult a Seasoned New York City Attorney
If you are worried about whether your employer can make you return to the workplace if you are uncomfortable there due to COVID-19, you should call Phillips & Associates. One of our experienced trial attorneys may be able to assist you. Phillips & Associates represents 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 (833) 529-3476 or complete our online form.