Employee Rights When Returning to Work After COVID-19

By Estephany Escobar – Spectrum News

CORNELIUS, N.C. — An employment attorney shared rights employees have as they prepare to return to work in the coming weeks.

Currently, North Carolina is in Phase 1 of reopening the economy, which allows more businesses to resume operations at limited capacity. In March, the COVID-19 pandemic closed down non-essential businesses.

Joshua Van Kampen, who works at Van Kampen Law in Charlotte, recommends workers return back to work if asked to do so.

“Rather than refuse to come back to work if you have some concerns, it would be better to return to work and observe what the working conditions are,” Van Kampen says.

If your employer doesn’t have safety measures,  he recommends employees address concerns on behalf of themselves and co-workers.

“Most employers do not have their plan, their safety situation, worked out. People are being asked to return to less than ideal situations. People need to stand up for their rights so they are safe,” Van Kampen says.

He advises against resigning because an attorney won’t be able to help you under those circumstances.

While some employees may have concerns about workplace safety, Vicky Hanrahan is thankful for the measures her employer is taking after reopening on Saturday at 50 percent capacity.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Hanrahan says.

Hanrahan, who works at Coco Couture in Cornelius, requested the boutique owner make masks a requirement. Now, customers and staff members must wear masks.

“We offer masks for customers if they do not have one. We highly recommend for you to wear one in here. We have sanitizer for you to use,” Hanrahan says.

For her, it was important to return to work but she wanted to do it safely.“I’m a woman of a certain age, over 60, and I have diabetes. It’s very important to me that I stay safe. I would not want to get sick myself. My husband is over 70 years old,” Hanrahan says.

Van Kampen said under both federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws, employers must provide a workplace free from recognized hazards or dangers.

“In every workplace, if you are in close proximity to other people, you have to be able to social distance at six feet. You have to have personal protective equipment, that would certainly include a mask and a clean workplace,” Van Kampen says.

If masks are not provided, Van Kampen said employees have the legal right to wear their own.

“It’s fairly concerning to me, the notion that some companies are more worried about appearance more than their workers being safe,” Van Kampen says.

He added if you have underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, you can request accommodations to continue working remotely, under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For more information on COVID-19 and labor laws, visit our COVID-19 Employment Law Resources for NC Employees page.

COVID-19 Employment Law Resources