Due to safety measures and social distancing needs, many employees would prefer to stay home right now to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these people wonder if they can be fired by their employers if they do not go to work. That is what we will consider in this blog.
So can your employer terminate your employment if you don’t go to work?
The Short Answer Is Yes. Your Employer Can Likely Fire You for Missing Work Due to Coronavirus
Businesses and employers are still allowed to terminate or suspend an employment contract unless specifically prohibited by State or Federal employment. However, many factors should be considered by an employer before they can legally fire an employee. Many states in the US are “At Will” employment states, which essentially means that your employer can fire you at will, (and you can leave at will), for virtually any reason as long as it does not go against any established laws in your state or federal employment laws.
COVID-19 Situation Complicates Things
These laws, and exceptions to these laws are evolving rapidly as the Coronavirus pandemic continues. This is not legal advice, and you should consult an attorney in your state before taking any course of action. The current COVID-19 pandemic presents major challenges to both businesses and individuals. It is a situation that most of us have never seen before in our lifetimes, and almost no one was prepared for. Some have equated it to a world war situation that calls for extreme measures. Governments around the world have enforced complete lockdowns in many places. Businesses have been mandated to shutdown, and social distancing has been enforced through law enforcing agencies.
During the last two weeks, the US federal and State governments have been slow to react, but they have tightened things. To minimize contact, many businesses have also voluntarily shut down operations. Businesses that could change their infrastructure have allowed employees to work from home.
Businesses that could neither shut down nor shift their work structure still require employees to show up for work. These businesses are mostly involved in crucial operations that must keep going even in these difficult times.
Healthcare centers, law enforcement departments, food, hygiene, and medical supply businesses are crucial that must keep going in order to ensure that everyone receives the necessary supplies they need. If you work in one of these essential industries, taking days off from work, even if you get Coronavirus, may allow your employer to terminate your employment.
If you work in a non-essential industry, then the chances are that your business has already shut down and allowed you to take days off or had layoffs of mandatory furloughs.
Exceptions for Special Circumstances
Certain individuals in essential industries can still claim exception based on their circumstances. Coronavirus can be more detrimental to the health of people over the age of 55 than it is for someone in their 20’s or 30’s. People with a weak immune system are also more likely to get infected and develop serious complications from the virus.
If you belong to one of these groups, you can ask your employer for unpaid leave from work to self-isolate at home. Most businesses understand the risks, and they would be happy to accommodate such a request if feasible.
Employees may also be offered the option to or take vacation hours, unpaid vacation from work, sick time and other forms of leave subject to approval from their employer. As we noted previously, many businesses have agreed to give their employees temporary days off from work.
Unsafe Work Environments
If you refuse to go to work because you can prove it is an unsafe work environment, or that your employer has not done enough to protect you from contracting Coronavirus, you may have a legal standing because you have the right to refuse dangerous work under OSHA guidelines. If you contracted Coronavirus at work due to such conditions you may have a negligent exposure claim.
What about Paid Leave?
Businesses are not mandated to pay employees that take days off right now. However, a number of businesses have agreed to compensate their employees even though the business is closed, and employees are not doing any work.
To encourage this trend, the US Government has announced multiple loan programs through SBA for such businesses. Small businesses that have shut down but continue to pay employee wages may be eligible for grants and loans through the PPP and EIDL programs to help them survive without going bankrupt.
It’s important to talk to your employer to see if you qualify for paid or unpaid leave, and under what conditions you’d qualify.