What are My Rights as an Employee in the COVID-19 Pandemic?

June 9th, 2020

A young woman works on the computer in an office setting while wearing a blue medical mask and blue medical gloves. With the dialing down of the stay-at-home order, many employers are laying off more and more employees or, just the opposite, calling laid off employees to return back to work. What are your rights during these confusing times?

Can my employer lay me off? And, what should I consider if I am laid off?

Yes. An employer has a right to lay off employees due to business needs. Business downturn as a result of COVID-19 is a legitimate reason for layoffs. But, after receiving a layoff letter, employees should consider a number of factors that could have played a role in his or her layoff decision. For example:

  • Were you the only person (or one of few) laid off?
  • Is it possible that you were laid off while other employees of a different race, gender, religion, age, or disability status were allowed to continue working from home or come back to work?
  • Have you recently filed for or received workers’ compensation, or protections under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)?
  • Did you ask for a reasonable accommodation due to a disability?
  • Have you recently reported any violations of law to your employer?
  • Are you a member of a Union and was the Union Agreement followed per layoff terms?
  • Do you have a contract that provides for the terms of your layoff or that provides for for-cause terminations only?

Although employers in the United States have a right to terminate or lay off employees for any reason, they still cannot discriminate against individuals or retaliate against them in certain circumstances. And in cases where contractual obligations are involved, employers are obliged to follow the agreed-upon terms.

If I have an underlying health condition, do I have to return to work?

If you have underlying medical conditions that may make you more susceptible to severe illness, you may ask your employer for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). Although there is still no case law directly relating COVID-19 and the ADA or MHRA, employers have to provide eligible employees with a reasonable accommodation if it would not be unduly burdensome to the employer. If you are an eligible employee and your health condition requires you to perform work from home, work less hours, or work with other restrictions, you may have a right to request a reasonable accommodation.

What should my employer do to ensure that the workplace is safe?

The CDC requires all businesses to develop a plan to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The CDC proposed a number of guidelines that the employers have to consider in developing and implementing their plan for reopening.[1]

What if I do not feel safe working and my employer does not follow the CDC guidelines?

If you believe that your workplace puts employees in a dangerous situation by disregarding CDC guidelines (creating a hazard), you have a right to put your employer on notice. If the employer fails to do anything to fix the hazard in the workplace, you have a right to inform Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employers may not retaliate against employees for making good faith reports of violations of law. Nevertheless, reporting a safety violation does not automatically entitle an employee to refuse to perform work. If you strongly believe that your safety is compromised due to employer’s actions, you should contact an experienced employment law attorney to discuss your rights.

During this confusing, and yet unpredictable time, you need a strong team in your corner to fight for your rights. If you have questions regarding your rights as an employee during the COVID-19 Pandemic, contact Halunen Law to speak with an experienced employment law attorney today.

Employee rights and protections can be difficult to understand and navigate. If you believe you’ve experienced illegal activity in your workplace, you need an experienced legal team in your corner.  Halunen Law employment attorneys are deeply committed to fighting for employee rights and have an impressive record of getting results for those they represent. We represent clients on a contingency basis, so there is no cost unless we win. Contact our office today for a free, confidential consultation.



[1] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/pdf/Reopening_America_Guidance.pdf