Can My Employer Require Me to Come to Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

April 1st, 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, workers across Minnesota are asking one simple question:

Question: Can my employer require me to come to work during the pandemic?

The short answer: You may be able to refuse to work if you reasonably believe your working conditions present an imminent danger of death or serious physical harm to yourself and if you have brought the unsafe working conditions to your employer’s attention, but the employer has failed to correct it.

What is a Reasonable Risk of Imminent Danger?

A “reasonable risk of imminent danger” is defined as being “assigned to work in an unsafe or unhealthful manner with a hazardous substance, harmful physical agent, or infectious agent.”[1] Minnesota OSHA Compliance considers the coronavirus an infectious agent.[2]

How Can I Protect Myself?

Under the Minnesota Occupational Health and Safety Act (“MNOSHA”), if you believe your working conditions are unsafe or unhealthful, the Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry recommends you do the following:[3]

  • Call the situation to your employer’s attention and request a correction; and
  • Contact MNOSHA Compliance to discuss or report the situation and request a correction. MNOSHA Compliance will then contact your employer to try to resolve your concern.[4]

If the situation is not corrected once brought to your employer’s attention, MNOSHA provides that you may, in good faith, refuse to expose yourself to a dangerous situation by refusing to work in the unsafe conditions.[5] In this circumstance, it would be wise to consult with an attorney who can help you do this in a way that best protects you from retaliation.

Can My Employer Terminate Me?

Under the law, your employer is prohibited from terminating you for a good faith refusal to perform the work if you have requested correction of the condition, but the employer has not done so.[6] Your employer is also prohibited under the law from retaliating against you for making a report of unsafe working conditions, either to your employer, or to MNOSHA Compliance. If your employer goes through with a termination, you may be able to bring a lawsuit for wrongful termination under either or both MNOSHA and the Minnesota Whistleblower Act.[7]

If you believe your employer is requiring you to work in an unsafe condition due to their failure to take adequate precautions against exposure of their employees to COVID-19, or if you believe your employer has retaliated against you for reporting unsafe working conditions due to COVID-19, we suggest you contact an attorney to discuss your options.

This blog is not intended to convey legal advice. Every case is unique and you are advised to consult with an attorney with respect to these issues.

Emma Denny is an experienced, tough employment attorney, relentless in her pursuit of justice for clients who have been wronged by their employer. She has successfully litigated cases in state and federal court and negotiated favorable resolutions for clients facing discrimination, whistleblower, harassment, FMLA, ERISA, disability and religious accommodation, wage, retaliation, contract agreements and a host of other disputes. Learn more.



[1] Minn. Stat. § 182.654, subd. 11.



[4] Contact Minnesota OSHA Compliance at [email protected], 651-284-5050 or 877-470-6742 with questions.

[5] Minn. Stat. § 182.654, subd. 11.

[6] Id.

[7] Minn. Stat. § 181.932.

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