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Coronavirus in the Workplace: What California Employees Need to Know

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As the coronavirus spreads across California and the United States, we have evaluated its impact on your workplace. Here are some of the things employees need to know in order to protect themselves, their coworkers and their legal rights.

Can an Employee Take Sick Time if He or She Is Experiencing Any Symptoms of the Coronavirus?

Most employment in California is “at-will.” This means that an employer may terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule. For example, under California law, an employer cannot deny an employee the right to use sick leave. Also, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee for using, or attempting to exercise the right to use, sick leave to attend to an illness or the preventative care of a family member. Therefore, if you or a family member are experiencing any symptoms of the virus, and you have sick time available, then you have the right to take time off and stay home. Your employer is prohibited from taking any action against you.

At the same time, we encourage employers to be flexible during these times and permit employees with symptoms to stay home, even if the employee does not have any sick time available. These prudent measures may help control the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace.

Can I Stay Home Even if I Do Not Have Any Symptoms of the Coronavirus?

An employee can generally be terminated if they do not show up to work, and they do not have sick leave that would cover the absence. Yet, again, there are exceptions.

For example, employers have an obligation to provide a work environment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” While we do not encourage hysteria, it might be beneficial for some workers to work from home while the country deals with the fallout of the coronavirus in the workplace.

Importantly, many companies are being flexible with their work-from-home policies. Some are even encouraging employees to work remotely to avoid contagion. Even still, that does not mean an employee can just decide to stay home. First, employees are encouraged to start a dialogue with their supervisors or their Human Resources Department to see if working from home is a viable option. Note that not everyone is allowed (or can) work from home. As a result, it is possible that an employee can be fired for failing to report to work as required.

Should Employers Consider Policies That Reduce In-Person Meetings?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the person-to-person spread of the coronavirus occurs most often between people who are within six feet of each other. So, to the extent possible, employers should consider having conference calls, WebExes, or Skype sessions in lieu of face-to-face meetings. This will help prevent the spread of germs and potential infection.

Can an Employer Send a Sick Worker Home?

Given the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus, employers have the right to request that an employee with symptoms go home. This is consistent with the employer’s duty to provide a safe working environment for all employees.

Contact a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer Today To Learn More About Your Rights

We are in uncertain times. As the potential for coronavirus in the workplace increases, many employers and employees are grappling with their workplace rights and obligations. Given the novelty of the issues, a clear answer is not always possible. Thus, if you suspect a violation of your rights occurred, then contact a Los Angeles employment lawyer today by filling out our online form or calling us at (310) 499-0140.

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