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Important Information on Workers’ Rights During this Pandemic

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Since the rise of the coronavirus, The U.S. government has followed the lead of other countries and global health groups and taken extreme preventative measures in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. Doing so has forced a shift in everyday life and stunted market growth, causing many businesses to ask employees to work from home or laying them off. Already, 6.6 million employees have filed for unemployment in the week ending on March 28, and many states are reportedly not prepared for the increase of people seeking unemployment benefits.  

As new legislation passes in order to offer relief for workers, some advocate for more rights and better conditions. If you’re wondering what is within your rights during this time, here is a quick guide to answer common questions for workers. 

Can I get fired for having the coronavirus? 

The American with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with a disability. In certain circumstances, someone with a condition exacerbated by the coronavirus (like asthma) may be considered disabled. 

When can I claim unemployment insurance? 

According to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) act recently passed, you can claim unemployment insurance, if your employer cuts your hours by more than one-third, or if you are furloughed (not being paid or working but continue to be employed and receiving health benefits). Because of the pandemic, independent freelancers and contractors who are not typically covered by unemployment insurance now are. 

Someone at my work got sick and my company did not tell us. Is this legal? 

Businesses cannot disclose the name of the person who has been diagnosed, but they should inform employees of the situation in order to self-monitor for symptoms and take precautions. If they do not take proper actions and another worker gets sick, the employer could open itself up to liability. 

If my employer requires me to work from home, am I entitled to be paid for that time? 

Yes! You should be paid what you would normally make if you’re salaried, and hourly employees working from home are entitled to compensation for all hours worked, including overtime. 

How do I qualify for emergency paid sick leave? 

These are some reasons someone could be covered and obtain emergency paid sick leave through the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act signed by Trump:

  • You are subject to a Federal, State or local quarantine order related to COVID-19. So if you’ve been told to stay in place and are unable to go to work you are qualified for emergency paid sick leave. 
  • You have been advised by a doctor to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
  • You have experienced symptoms and are seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • You are caring for someone who is subject to the first two bullet points.
  • You are caring for your child and their school, or their place of care has closed because of COVID-19. 
  • You are experiencing any other condition substantially similar to these above (after consulting the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury).

I am immunocompromised and don’t want to be in public during this time. What can I do? 

If you have an underlying health condition that makes you vulnerable to getting sick, including diabetes, you could be legally covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, it has not yet been made clear whether immunocompromised workers are covered by this law. If this is the case, you should use sick time and try to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Those who qualify can also take the extra two weeks of paid sick leave provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. 

My workplace feels unsafe. What can I do? 

Employers are legally obliged to provide safe working environments, including disinfecting spaces, providing increased ventilation, and allowing for 6-foot distancing between individual workers. Workers who feel their employer is neglecting these guidelines could report to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and employers are prohibited to retaliate against flagging safety issues. 

Luna Olavarría Gallegos is a Content Writer for Revolution English and Pulso. She's a storyteller working at the intersections of culture and global politics, and has been published in The Guardian, The FADER, and Remezcla. Based in New York, she’s originally from a bicultural home in New Mexico.