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How Does COVID-19 Affect Your Employment?

Employer Liability

Michigan’s Stay Home, Stay Safe Order has raised many concerns with Michigan employees and their employers. The order, among other things, requires workers who are not necessary to sustain or protect life to stay home. The order prohibits a person or entity from operating a business or conducting operations “that require workers to leave their homes or places of residence except to the extent that those workers are necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations.” A willful violation of the order is a misdemeanor.

The current order, Executive Order 2020-59, which expires on May 15, 2020, defines critical infrastructure workers under sections 8 and 9 and can be found here: 

https://www.michigan.gov/whitmer/0,9309,7-387-90499_90705-526894–,00.html

Can my employer force me to come to work if I am not a critical infrastructure worker?

If you are not a critical infrastructure worker, your employer cannot force you to come to work. Further, your employer cannot terminate you if you refuse to violate the law. If you are terminated under such circumstances, you could have a claim against your employer for wrongful termination.

Can I get paid time off if I have tested positive for COVID-19? 

If you test positive for COVID-19 and your medical provider or a public health authority has instructed you to quarantine and you are unable to telework, you may be eligible for 2 weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at your regular rate of pay under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). If you are eligible for paid sick leave under the FFCRA, your employer cannot force you to use other paid leave (such as vacation) before you use emergency paid leave under the FFCRA. 

The FFCRA applies to certain public employers, and private employers with fewer than 500 employees. The provisions of the FFCRA apply through December 31, 2020 and can be found here: 

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employee-paid-leave

What if I am sick with symptoms of COVID-19?

If you are too sick to work, your employer can require you to leave work or tell you not to come to work. If your employer tells you to stay home, you may apply for unemployment benefits. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms of COVID-19 may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. These symptoms include: cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, new loss of taste or smell. If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, seek a medical diagnosis.

If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and you are unable to telework, you may be eligible for 2 weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at your regular rate of pay under the FFCRA if you work for a covered employer.

Does my employer have to protect me from COVID-19 exposure?

Your employer is required, under Michigan law, to provide its employees with “a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to the employee.” This obligation includes providing employees with the necessary “personal protective equipment” (PPE) to protect employees from the hazards that they may be exposed to in the workplace. 

Executive Order 2020-59 (see link above) requires businesses to adhere to sound social distancing practices and measures, including restricting the number of employees on premises, promoting working remotely, increasing cleaning and disinfection of the workplace, and keeping workers and patrons at least 6 feet from one another.

As the nation prepares to reopen during this pandemic, the CDC has issued guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces, workplaces, businesses, schools and homes to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html

If your employer is failing to take the proper precautions to protect employees from exposure to COVID-19, you can contact the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) and file a complaint:

https://www.michigan.gov/leo/0,5863,7-336-78421_11407_15333-93835–,00.html

If I am exposed to COVID-19 at work and I am diagnosed with COVID-19, can I make a claim for workers’ compensation benefits?

Yes. You must be able to show that the exposure arose out of and in the course of your employment and that it has caused a loss of wage earning capacity in work suitable to your qualifications and training. You should be prepared to present proof of a specific source of exposure or that you work around people that have been diagnosed with COVID-19. 

If you are a “First Response Employee” (e.g., health care personnel, police officer, corrections officer, fire fighter, EMT) that has been diagnosed with COVID-19, you are considered to have a personal injury that arose out of and in the course of your employment and you are entitled to make a workers’ compensation claim. 

Can I file for unemployment benefits if I am not working or working less hours due to COVID-19?

If you have been laid off of work temporarily, if your regular hours are reduced due to your business slowdown or lack of demand due to COVID-19, you should apply for unemployment benefits. 

Through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, workers who do not normally qualify for unemployment benefits (self-employed, 1099-independent contractors, gig, and low-wage workers) may qualify for an established weekly benefit amount. 

Further, the PUA increases weekly benefits for all unemployed workers by $600 a week for up to four months and extends benefit payments from 26 to 39 weeks.

If you are sick due to COVID-19, have a family or child care situation due to COVID-19, are quarantined or are immunocompromised in some way, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.

However, if you don’t want to go to work only because you’re afraid you might get sick with COVID-19, you’re probably not eligible for unemployment benefits.   

If you believe that you have been exposed to COVID-19 while at work and you are exhibiting symptoms, contact a medical professional immediately. If you need the advice of an attorney, contact Giroux Trial Attorneys. We can help. 

Helpful Links and Resources: 

https://www.michigan.gov/whitmer/0,9309,7-387-90499_90705-526894–,00.html

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employee-paid-leave

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html

https://www.michigan.gov/leo/0,5863,7-336-78421_11407_15333-93835–,00.html

https://www.michigan.gov/leo/0,5863,7-336-78421_97241—,00.html

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