Employment Attorney Discusses Employee Rights During Pandemic

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Erica Bryant: (00:01)

From schools to work, this pandemic raising a lot of questions for employees. Questions you probably never had to worry about before. Alison Latisse working from home today as we here at channel nine, try to distance ourselves from each other to honor the health guidelines. And Alison had the opportunity to talk with an employment attorney about your rights as an employee. 

Alison Latisse: (00:24)

Have you been fielding a lot of calls from people who are worried that if they don’t go because they’re afraid they could contract Coronavirus, they could be fired? 

Josh Van Kampen: (00:33)

Yeah, just in the last couple of days we’ve started to get, uh, people calling with at least coronavirus questions, uh, but also people that have been terminated in connection with something having to do with the Coronavirus. So, you know, the issue is that the laws that are in place related and anticipate a pandemic of the sky. 

Alison Latisse: (00:52)

What are the roles in North Carolina and really nationwide when it comes to your job and your health in situations like this, can you stay home because you’re worried about getting sick and still keep your job? 

Josh Van Kampen: (01:08)

Well what one statute that’s on the books is the occupational safety health administration act. And that law actually allows employees to refuse to go into work, uh, where there is a, where they had a reasonable belief that there is a risk of imminent death or serious injury. Um, and usually this is applied and you know, construction sites or you know, places with asbestos or things like that. But it certainly can imply apply to a pandemic situation. Um, and a, and then the answer is it depends. Um, so for example, if the employee has a particularized reason to believe that the workplace there’s somebody there who may have the, have the, uh, the virus, then I think they can lawfully under the OSHA statute refuse to go to work. But if it’s just a generalized anxiety about being infected, but there’s no specific information. You know, that pandemic being a problem in the workplace. And then I think the employee would have some risk about refusing to show up for work. 

Alison Latisse: (02:13)

What obligations do employers, companies have to provide people with resources to be able to maintain their health, like hand sanitizer or masks? 

Josh Van Kampen: (02:26)

Yeah, that’s a great point. So the same OSHA statute also requires employers to provide a safe workplace. Um, and certainly in a pandemic situation, let’s take the Harris Teeter cashier for example. That cashier in this sort of pandemic situation certainly should be provided some sort of protective, personal protective equipment or hand sanitizer, gloves. 

Alison Latisse: (02:50)

What is your best advice to workers here in North Carolina and particularly in the Charlotte region?

Josh Van Kampen: (02:56)

Well, I mean, unfortunately the way the law stands right now there, there is some exposure if you refuse to report to work just out of generalized anxiety about contracting the virus. So what we need to happen is for the governor and the legislature to make a, uh, an issue, an executive order or pass a law that says it’s unlawful to discriminate or terminate against, terminate someone who, uh, who is refusing to go to work out of concern for contracting the Coronavirus. Right now, there’s, there’s this gap in the law, and instead the employee has to show a reasonable belief of risk of imminent death or serious injury. Um, and that’s a pretty high, that’s a pretty high standard. This is a good time to be calling your state legislature, the governor’s office, you know, and obviously your federal representatives as well. Uh, they’re not going to respond unless we’re really loud.

Looking for more information on protecting your employment rights during COVID-19?

COVID-19 Employment Law Resources For Employees