As counties enter new phases of eased COVID-19 restrictions, businesses will begin to resume operations. For many workers, this is great news. For high-risk workers, or those workers who live with someone who high risk, the prospect of returning to work comes with a set of mixed emotions. High-risk workers called back to work after COVID may need to first engage in dialogue with employers about their conditions.
High-Risk Workers and Their Families
The CDC has issued guidance concerning those who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including “older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions.” Those conditions include chronic lung disease, asthma, heart conditions, conditions that cause someone to be immunocompromised, diabetes and liver disease. Pregnant women are included among those at higher risk.
Safety for High-Risk Workers
During the first two return-to-work phases, the White House Guidance advises “all vulnerable individuals” to continue to shelter-in-place and notes that “[m]embers of households with vulnerable residents should be aware that by returning to work . . . they could carry the virus back home.” Therefore, precautions should be taken to isolate from vulnerable residents. You’ll want to ask your employer what safety precautions they plan for the return to work.
Ask for an Accommodation
This guidance also encourages employers to strongly consider special accommodations for high-risk workers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued additional guidance concerning COVID safety and returning to work. Workers requesting an accommodation should be prepared for employers to ask questions to determine whether the condition is a disability. Your employer may request medication documentation of your condition. Be prepared to explain how the requested accommodation would enable you to keep working. Have alternative accommodations i mind that may effectively meet your needs.
Teleworking is a Reasonable Accommodation
Employers are encouraged to discuss telework accommodations and determine whether modifications should be made. Employers should be aware that undue hardship considerations may differ when reviewing telework accommodations. The EEOC encourages employers and employees to be flexible and creative in these circumstances.
Compensation When You Cannot Return to Work
If you are unable to return to work, you may be eligible to receive either Paid Sick Leave pursuant to the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Paid Sick Leave under the FFCRA pays your average regular wage rate up to $511/day for 80 hours. The maximum you can receive is $5,110 in the aggregate.
These are general guidelines only. Not all employers are required to comply with the FFCRA. There are also consequences of refusing a return to work. The details of your situation can impact your eligibility for any of the benefits mentioned above. In addition, your employer may not fully understand its responsibilities under the quickly changing laws applicable to COVID.
If you are high-risk and have been asked to return to work after COVID, we can help you understand all your rights and options. You will be better prepared to have a conversation with your employer after first reviewing your situation with us.