The Wall Street Journal reported last week that some companies whose employees do not fall within the essential worker categories are asking their workers to return to large offices even as cases of COVID-19 spike in their cities and states. Workers say they feel pressured to adhere to their company demands to hold on to their jobs, yet don’t feel safe doing so.
It raises a number of questions regarding what employers can demand of workers as health experts continue to encourage social distancing. The bottom line is that employers are not required to allow telecommuting except to workers who qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Of course, smart employers will show as much concern as possible for their workers’ health as a means of keeping them long term. And if federal, state or local government have a quarantine in effect, it could place more pressure on employers to adhere to those guidelines.
Coronavirus and workers’ comp
Can an employee recover workers’ compensation benefits if they test positive for COVID-19 and suspect it occurred at work? The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) answers the question with a firm “maybe.” Though workers can recover benefits for “occupational diseases,” that statute in many states, including Florida, exclude “ordinary diseases of life” to which the general public is exposed. The exception is if the incidence of the disease is substantially higher in a particular trade.
State leaders have already said government employees working on the frontlines of the pandemic in first responder and health care provider roles will be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they contract COVID-19. Benefits may include a portion of lost wages as well as full medical costs, death and disability benefits.
What else can an employer require?
The Journal article states that employers may also require workers to take a business trip, but would be unwise to do so due to the risk of losing good workers, if not immediately, in the near future. Employers normally are not allowed to take workers’ temperatures, but under unusual circumstances such as a pandemic it is permissible.
Workers who test positive for COVID-19 are not required to report this to an employer, but it is ethically the right thing to do if they have been working around others in an office setting.
It is always wise to enlist the help of a knowledgeable workers’ compensation lawyer when complex issues such as contracting the coronavirus at work are involved.