Announcer: The following segment is sponsored by Martin, Harding & Mazzotti.
Interviewer: The employers have started to grapple with how to bring workers back to the office safely. However, some workers have raised concerns for their health and safety as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to creep up. Here to help examine this issue is managing partner Paul Harding from the law firm of Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, what are an employer’s responsibilities in terms of keeping employees safe?
Paul: Well, they set up, you know, the PPE, the personal protection equipment, so you walk in, there are masks and you kind of walk in the building, mask on. You walk around, mask on. Sit at your desk, often, mask off. Interact with someone too close, back on. You see it happening, you’ve got the people separated by plexiglass. Who knew? If we knew invest in plexiglass six months ago, we would all be just in great shape, right? It’s everywhere, but there’s so many things that are happening, temperatures being taken and just taking reasonable accommodations because everyone knows that number one, people’s safety is paramount. Someone gets COVID-19 in your office, you can be shut down again.
Interviewer: So, what if an employee is afraid to return to work? Do they have the right to refuse?
Paul: Well, if they have underlying health issue, there’s an argument here that under the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, I can’t go because if I do it’s going to be a really bad thing for me, we’ve tested and proven that. So, that is probably a situation where they do have some protection. They can get reasonably accommodated. Now, if you’re a bank teller, you can’t be a bank teller at home, right? There’s just nothing for you to do, it becomes more difficult. But I do think there are protections there, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that you can still… an employer can still fire employees. You know, they can say, “Well, I’m kind of afraid to go back.”
Okay, well, we’ve done all the rules with CDC, the state rules, got our own rules. It might be an underperforming employee potentially hiding behind it. So, there is employer recourse, but it’s uncharted territory. This pandemic has gone a little faster than the wall, right? We’ve never really had this argument for employees and their rights. So, we are kind of trying to walk through this thing without the law having decided these decisions yet. So, as an employer, be careful. Do what’s right, which is always a good method in any timeframe, pandemic or otherwise.
But again, if someone has an underlying health issue, I think that person is protected. Someone just has fear and you have taken other accommodations, you’re probably okay. But boy, I don’t like giving advice with probablys.
Interviewer: All right. Paul Harding there with Martin, Harding & Mazzotti. For more information on what your rights are, visit our website, cbs6albany.com.