Workers question whether they were fired illegally during COVID-19 pandemic

By David Hodges | March 19, 2020 at 6:25 PM EDT – Updated March 20 at 8:14 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – A WBTV Investigation is looking at whether companies can fire employees for taking sick time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An employee at a dental office sent WBTV a doctor’s note saying she should be quarantined for 14 days awaiting results from a coronavirus test. When she shared that with her boss text messages she gave WBTV show she was fired the next day.

The same thing happened tor another woman in the same office whose daughter is terminally ill and high risk. She asked for sick time to limit exposure to the other employee and was fired.

WBTV asked employment attorney Josh Van Kampen if that was legal.

“We’re at a disadvantage here because there aren’t any laws in place that really anticipated a pandemic of this kind,” Van Kampen said. “It really depends on the size of your employer.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from firing people for covered disabilities, but it only applies to companies with 15 or more employees. It also doesn’t cover the coronavirus.

“They call COVID-19 novel because we don’t know, it it’s new. It may be covered by the ADA it may not, but our area employers should certainly act as it is and comply with the statute,” Van Kampen said.

Van Kampen says Governor Roy Cooper could clarify this issue quickly.

“(The Governor) has an opportunity to pass an executive order to say it’s illegal, for example, to fire an employee for self-quarantining themselves,” Van Kampen said.

“Because if we don’t have that in place then people will be scared to self-quarantine because they’ll lose their jobs.”

WBTV reached out to Governor Cooper’s office to ask if they’re considering an emergency order protecting employees who self-quarantine but his office did not respond by publication of this article.

Van Kampen says he expects his phone will be ringing off the hook as more layoffs start happening.

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

COVID-19 Employment Law Resources For Employees