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Can my employer force me to come into work during a Covid-19 lockdown?

On Behalf of | Mar 31, 2020 | Uncategorized

The novel coronavirus (which causes the disease Covid-19) is creating concerns for workers across the country, and in particular New York and California. According to recent reports, the number of coronavirus cases in California has surged past 3,000 cases and New York has more than 33,000 cases. Governors in both states have ordered all “nonessential” businesses to close and advised residents to stay at home.

Because of these “stay-at-home” orders, you may be wondering whether your employer can require you to physically come in to work regardless of statewide restrictions. The answer depends on what industries you work in and whether you are considered “essential” or not.

What is an essential business?

While cities typically decide what can or cannot remain open, “essential” businesses are those that people rely on daily. The California State Public Health Officer has designated a list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers,” which can be found here. Some examples include:

  • Banks
  • Grocery stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Pet stores
  • Garbage collection
  • Post offices
  • Security
  • Health care operations
  • Big box stores
  • Transportation
  • Daycare centers
  • Gas stations
  • Hardware stores

Because of their importance, employers in these industries can require healthy employees to come into work. Of course, if an employee has immune deficiencies or gets symptoms related to the coronavirus, they can talk to their employer about their options.

In some cases, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and other state and local disability discrimination laws, could allow some workers to get reasonable accommodations due to the coronavirus. Under state and federal laws, employers are required to provide accommodations to workers that have been directly affected by it. However, if the requested accommodation, like working from home, puts undue hardship on the employer, workers may not receive these benefits.

What is a “non-essential” business?

These are typically recreational entities. While they provide joy and entertainment, these typically cannot stay open. A few examples of “non-essential” businesses include:

  • Theaters
  • Gyms
  • Salons and spas
  • Museums
  • Shopping malls
  • Sports and concert venues

In New York and California, the Governors have ordered all “non-essential” workers to stay home. If a “non-essential” employer requests a worker to come in, they could face civil or criminal penalties.

Employees deserve the proper protection

No matter the situation, employers must take steps to protect their workers from exposure to any unreasonable risks during this time. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact our firm.

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