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Covid-19 Update: Employees Afraid To Return To Work

Image by Наркологическая Клиника from Pixabay

With different States relaxing their Covid-19 rules and regulations many employees have expressed concerns about their safety at work.

As employers, it's important to understand the employees rights under EPSL (Employee Paid Sick Leave) and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), as well as your options should the employee refuse to return to work.

Here are some guidelines to help you navigate these sensitive and somewhat confusing situations and help alleviate employee fears and work with those who may need special accommodations.

If The Employee Objects To A Recall From Furlough

If an employee objects to returning from furlough it's important to respond with understanding and empathy rather than with threats.

Inquire about the nature of the fear and document their response in writing so you have a record for your files or any third parties that would need verification.

What If They Are Afraid Of Infection Or Infecting Others?

If an employee is worried about safety or infection and/or is living with someone that is particularly vulnerable and are worried about infecting that person talk to your employee about the workplace safety precautions in place.

(PS - if you don't have any workplace safety precautions in place it would be a good idea to get that set up and in the employee handbook)

If concerns still exist discuss teleworking options. Be sure you are clear about the expectations of working form home and the importance of maintaining the company culture even though they are working remote.

If They Still Object

If working from home is still not an option they will accept you are within your rights to remind them if they are receiving unemployment benefits they will need to report the recall from the company to the unemployment office; and that you are and/or will be reporting it as well – which would affect their unemployment eligibility.

At this point their choices are they can return on the required date or request an unpaid personal leave of absence.

If they still object – then the company may consider the refusal as a resignation from employment and terminate the employee.

What If They Are Immunocompromised Or High Risk?

If they themselves are particularly vulnerable due to adverse health or high risk variables then an allowance to work from home would be in order.

You can also consider if the employee is eligible for EPSL (employee paid sick leave) under the FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act.)

Reason #2 of the EPSL allows up to 2 weeks of self-quarantine paid leave for those who have or may have Covid, or are particularly vulnerable.

If they are not eligible or exhausted EPSL they may be able to request medical leave of absence under your company policy or applicable state law.

The most likely law to apply is the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). This law applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Most conditions that make someone especially vulnerable to covid-19 would be considered a disability under these circumstances.

Some employees may have options for continuing benefits or partial wage replacement depending on the state and circumstance.

Take Aways

As with other scenarios, when dealing with employees it's critical to ensure all your actions are compliant with the law.

Make sure you document every interaction and conversation with your employee(s) so you have a record if you have a case from the DOL.

Finally make sure you take all precautions to create a safe environment at work so employees feel good about coming back to work.


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