Some Minnesotans are concerned about working in an office or service industry workplace during COVID-19. They’ve asked our team of employment law attorneys whether their employer can require them to come in for their shift even if they’re feeling unsafe because of the Coronavirus.
Your employer can never require you to work in an unsafe environment, and that includes during a pandemic. Furthermore, the pandemic does not abolish employees’ rights to disability- or pregnancy-related accommodations or medical leave.
Minnesota DLI’s Take on COVID-19 Dangers in the Workplace
The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (“DLI”) has recently reiterated that employees have the right to refuse to work under conditions that they, in good faith, reasonably believe present an imminent danger of serious physical harm. Specifically, the DLI points out that infectious agents, like COVID-19, could make the work environment so unsafe that an employee has a right to refuse to work.
So what happens if you, in good faith, refuse to work because the work environment is unsafe? If you do, and you are fired or otherwise retaliated against, you can contact Minnesota OSHA (“MNOSHA”) and it will attempt to resolve the issue. If MNOSHA determines the workplace would have put you in imminent danger of death or serious physical harm, and you lost wages for refusing to work because of this, you are entitled to your lost pay.
Employees with a Disability Have Rights During COVID-19
State and federal laws prohibiting disability and pregnancy discrimination, as well as medical leave laws, like the FMLA, still apply during the pandemic. Under both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act, if an employee with a disability needs a reasonable accommodation, the employer remains obligated to provide the accommodation, unless it would pose an undue hardship on the employer. Thus, if you have a disability that increases your risk for contracting, or being harmed by COVID-19, you have a right to reasonable accommodations, such as teleworking or taking time away from work. There are situations where this could cause an undue hardship on the employer, but, as the EEOC states, in the event of undue hardship, the employer and employee should cooperate to identify an alternative reasonable accommodation.
If you need medical leave due to a serious health condition or to care for certain family members with such a condition, then you can still be eligible for leave during the pandemic. Similarly, if you are pregnant, your employer still has to accommodate you. The pandemic does not suspend or remove these employee rights.
Though the hardship caused by the pandemic continues, employers must continue to provide a safe working environment and respect the rights of their employees. If your employer isn’t doing this, contact our employment law attorneys in Minneapolis at 612-294-2600.