Do Workers have the Right to be provided with Protective Equipment While on the job?
As per OSHA general requirements, an employer is required to provide their employees with protective equipment when working in a dangerous workplace. By providing such equipment, this ensures that an employee is safeguarded against unreasonable exposure in a hazardous environment. In relation to COVID-19, similar standards are implemented, and employers must oblige by them. Particularly, an employer must provide face masks to their employees to protect against potential exposure to COVID-19 while in the workplace. Additionally, an employee has the right to perform their job safely and at their discretion of comfort. If an employer has been approached by a concerned employee, that employer should take reasonable action to ensure a safe working environment.
Can my Employer Reduce my Hours due to COVID-19?
An employer is freely able to reduce the regular work hours of any individual who is a non-salary employee, during temporary closures of select businesses, and the implementation of safer-at-home orders. Hourly-paid employees, in particular, are employees under the “non-exempt” classification, which means they are entitled to receive federal minimum wage and overtime pay if they exceed forty hours of work per week. Whereas salary employees are not eligible for overtime pay, regardless of exceeding a forty-hour work week. Thus, because these specific employees have a more flexible pay schedule, their employer has more authority to control their hours in order to cooperate with temporary closures and lower demand levels.
How Many Hours is My Employer Required to pay me During the COVID-19 Business Closures?
The answer is, it depends on whether you are considered a salary employee or an hourly employee. An hourly employee, for example, that usually works forty hours a week, but has since had their hours reduced due to business closures has the right to receive compensation for their hours actually worked, not for what they should have worked. With that being said, if you work a total of ten hours, then you will only be compensated for ten hours. Alternatively, if you are unable to perform work from home during the closure, then your employer is not entitled to compensate you. However, an hourly employee is entitled to unemployment benefits for reduced work hours, which is mandated by the federal government, specifically for those suffering hardships as a result of the pandemic.
There is a major difference in salary employees, nonetheless. Employees who receive salaried compensation, pursuant to applicable laws, are entitled to full pay even during business closures. The exception to this would be if the specific employment agreement had a provision that excluded pay, in times of unforeseeable events or circumstances beyond the employer’s control. In that case, there will need to be a fact by fact basis to demonstrate an exclusion to pay a salary employee.
Do I have the Right to Refuse to Come into Work for COVID-19 Concerns?
There are many instances where the CDC has demonstrated reasonable grounds for an employee to refuse to come into work. First, an employee who fears he or she may have been exposed to another individual with COVID-19, is encouraged to stay home. Secondly, if an employee has recently been on an airplane, the CDC recommends fourteen days of self-quarantine before returning to work. Moreover, employers are instructed to be lenient and conscious of new policies to effectively protect the workplace and their employees.
Conversely, the OSHA has rendered a four-part factor test to establish whether an employee has reasonably denied their performance of work due to an imminent fear in the workplace. For example, the fear must not be generalized, in fact, the imminent fear must be based on factual merit. Many aspects are taken into account, such as the risk-type occupation or the risk-type individual who is asserting the fear.
High risk workplaces, such as hospitals or nursing homes, are treated with more potency. The OSHA wants to ensure certain safety measures in a working environment, yet, also want to make certain that an employee is asserting an issue or concern in good faith. If your employer fails to implement proper guidelines or does not take reasonable steps to safeguard your well-being, then the law offers you, as an employee, the right to refuse to come into your workplace, until the imminent fear is no longer apparent.