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What To Do If Your Workplace Is Reopening But You Don’t Feel Safe Going There

Adrianna Ngo
Adrianna Ngo Student, UC Berkeley
Adrianna Ngo is an undergraduate pre-law student at UC Berkeley studying Environmental Economics and Policy with a passion towards understanding the intersection between law and diversity.
  • Image by:
    Klaus Hausmann from Pixabay
Mask, Gloves and hand sanitizer, what to do if you don't feel safe going back to work

Since early March, our country has been in quarantine, and states have been placed under stay-at-home orders


Since then, some states have re-opened businesses. 


For example, on May 4th, Florida entered Phase 1 of the Plan for Florida’s Recovery. Restaurants and retail stores began to operate at 25% capacity.


However, personal service businesses - such as dentists, hair salons, gyms, and bars - are still closed.


As of May 15, all regions in the state of New York, except New York City, met the metrics to enter Phase 1 of New York Forward. This means businesses in construction, agriculture, manufacturing, and wholesale trade were able to reopen.


As of May 25, California has entered Stage 2 of the Resilience Roadmap, a phase during which lower-risk workplaces, such as retail, office, and essential businesses can open with certain modifications. 


To see what phase your state is entering and its plan on reopening, you can visit this site


If your employer is reopening, and you do not feel safe working because of the Coronavirus (not to mention widespread protests), here are some things you should consider before going to work.


Communicate your concerns with your employer


The first thing you should do if you feel unsafe going back to work is talk with your employer about what’s causing your fear. 


Let’s be honest – this can be a hard conversation to have. 


The best way to initiate this conversation, according to Occupational Health and Safety, is to talk with your coworkers and see if they express common concerns about health and safety issues. 


If they do, you and your coworkers should approach your supervisor as a group to communicate the concerns. That way, your employer will see that it’s not just one outsider who has issues – the whole group is concerned. 


Voicing your concerns as a group is a good move legally. 


Employers are responsible for ensuring that their workplace is safe and free from recognized hazards. 


If they ignore what the group has told them, it could help the group in a legal case at a later date. 


What precautions is your employer taking for the safety of employees and customers?


To ensure your safety and the safety of others, your employer should follow safety guidelines recommended by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


Some strategies that are highly recommended include:

  • Conducting daily health screenings using virus-screening questionnaires or fever-detection technology
  • Conducting extensive and frequent disinfecting of the business
  • Encouraging employees to wear protective face coverings and gloves
  • Placing strict social distancing protocols
  • Improving the building ventilation system

This guidance is based on current knowledge the CDC has on COVID-19 and will be updated as they gain more insight into how the disease spreads


In addition to the CDC guidelines, the U.S. Department of Labor released an extensive guide on coronavirus and how employers should prepare for this outbreak based on traditional infection prevention and practices. 


This guide is called the Occupational Safety and Health Act and provides detailed instruction on how to follow CDC guidelines to prevent transmission of COVID-19. 


Do states have official guidelines?


Yes. Every state has different guidelines that will influence the reopening of businesses. 


The names of the state plans vary, as do benchmarks for re-opening. 


If you are interested in finding the official guidelines for your state on reopening and general workplace guidance, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a State-by-State Business Reopening Guide.


If you get sick, here is how your employer is supposed to help you:


If you test positive for the Coronavirus, or show any symptoms relating to COVID-19 (shortness of breath, fever, cough), you must quarantine yourself, notify your supervisor, and stay at home. 


You don’t need a positive test result to call in sick. 


The CDC stated that your employer should not require you to provide proof for sick leave because medical facilities are overwhelmed at the moment and may not be able to provide the proper documentation in a timely manner.


Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is effective through December 31, 2020, if your employer has fewer than 500 employees and you have or show symptoms of COVID-19, you should have access to 2 weeks of paid sick leave.


Some cities, like Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Francisco require that employers greater than 500 employees also provide 2 weeks of paid sick leave for COVID-19 related illness or injury.


In addition, under this act, your employer cannot retaliate against you if you fall ill to COVID-19, regardless of what state you live in.


What happens if you quit?


If you quit when offered the chance to come back to work, you are ineligible for unemployment compensation and your employer does not have to pay you.


In order to qualify for unemployment, you must

  • Be unemployed through no fault of your own
  • Meet certain labor and wage requirements instituted by your state
  • Meet any other additional state requirements

To find your state’s guidelines on filing for unemployment insurance, the U.S. Department of Labor has a list of all state unemployment insurance offices. 


Consequently, due to COVID-19 and the Cares Act, states have the option to extend unemployment compensation for those affected by COVID-19. For more information, refer to your state’s unemployment insurance office or visit the Unemployment Insurance Relief page provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.


In short, if you are worried about getting the Coronavirus at work, band together with your coworkers and speak up.


If you suspect you have the Coronavirus, don’t go to work. You don’t have to, and you’ll still get paid. 

Legal Disclaimer

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