Guidance for Employers and Employees on Rights and Safety with COVID-19

August 27, 2021

Guidance for Employers and Employees on Rights and Safety with COVID-19

 With many workplaces inching towards a full reopening, and with the recent FDA approval of the first COVID-19 vaccine, the attorneys at Rock Fusco & Connelly, LLC, have prepared an easy-to-use cheat sheet to answer the most common questions asked by employers and employees, alike.

Employers’ authority over requesting information and requiring safety measures

  • Employers may ask employees who work on-site if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms. However, employers are required to ensure the confidentiality of any medical information. Employers may not ask about an employee’s family members’ health information but may ask employees whether they have had contact with anyone who has been diagnosed or has experienced symptoms.
  • Employers may require a doctor’s note, or a negative COVID-19 test, before returning to work from quarantine. At the same time, employers are expected to recognize that healthcare providers may be extremely busy and unable to provide the documentation in a timely manner.
  • An employer may require employees to go home if they are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, and employers may require face coverings or temperature screenings.

Employers have obligations to accommodate employees’ treatment and recovery from COVID-19

  • Under the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”) and federal law, employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees, if needed to perform their jobs. These steps might include telecommuting, staggering schedules, or taking a leave of absence, but an employer is not required to provide an accommodation which is prohibitively expensive or unduly disruptive to the business.
  • Whether or not an employer is required to allow employees to work from home will depend on the circumstances. This falls under an analysis of “reasonable accommodations,” where employers should discuss possible options with employees

Employee cannot refuse to go to work if they feel at-risk for contracting COVID-19

  • There is no state or federal law that provides job protection to a healthy employee who refuses to work out of fear of contracting COVID-19. Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employees who believe they are in imminent danger may refuse to work if certain conditions are met.

Employer generally can terminate/lay off an employee due to the economic impact of COVID-19

  • Generally, an employer can layoff or terminate an employee for economic reasons. A couple of exceptions include: i) employees who are guaranteed employment for a certain period of time under an employment contract or ii) employees performing work under a collective bargaining agreement which provides for procedures relating to employee layoffs and terminations.
  • However, the IHRA and federal law prohibit an employer from treating employees differently based on their age or actual or perceived disability. Employers should not assume that an older employee, or an employee with an underlying condition, is in need of special protection or accommodation.

Different treatment based on employee’s geographical location is prohibited

  • Employers are prohibited, by the IHRA and federal law, from treating employees differently based on race or national origin. Employees may file a charge with the IDHR if they believe they have been fired, demoted, or harassed on the basis of national origin where there is a high incidence of COVID-19 cases.

For more specific information regarding the rights and obligations of employers and employees with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact the attorneys at Rock Fusco & Connelly, LLC.