Healthcare workers are today’s soldiers against Covid-19. They are self-sacrificing, hardworking, usually over extended, and have much to be concerned about including their families. When dealing with Covid-19, many healthcare workers are wondering if they have the right to not work, much like most of society. Long gone are the days of indentured servitude. However, generally, employees do not have the right to refuse work at their discretion or else they can potentially face disciplinary actions or even termination. However, under exceptional circumstances Covid-19 may trigger the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA):
1) Lack of Safety Equipment – depending on the level of exposure, the lack of basic safety measures such as disinfectants, sanitizers, safety masks and equipment may cause an imminent risk of life or health to the employee, which an employer is responsible for providing. Depending on the level of exposure to the worker and the availability of safety equipment, this situation could trigger OSHA issues.
2) Employee Disability – if an employee has a known disability that puts them at higher risk for contracting Covid-19 then the employer is required to make reasonable accommodation, like letting them work outside of the risky environments.
The two above conditions are something to be mindful of in today’s environment. Another issue affecting workers might be a family member who is seriously ill.
3) Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), may be an obligation that an employer should be mindful of. If it is triggered, employees may get up to 12 weeks of relief so they can take care of their spouse, child, or parent with a serious medical condition. FMLA is very specific and it does not apply to all situations. FMLA is only triggered if the employee has worked more than 1250 hours in the last 12 months and the employer employs over 50 employees at or near the location of work. Serious medical condition is something that is documented; it may require hospitalization or continuous medical care, etc. it depends. Note: Caring for a child for lack of not being able to find childcare is typically not deemed a qualifying condition to invoke FMLA.
An employee does have the right to ask for safety equipment and for policies and procedures in place from an employer concerning the issues pointed out above.
The general public has much heart felt gratitude for today’s healers.
Ben Assad Mirza, Esq., LLM, CPA, MPHA, CHC
Healthcare Law Partners, LLC