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FAQ: How COVID-19 Affects Employment Law in Oklahoma

Serving Families Throughout Tulsa
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Across the United States, employees have been hit the hardest in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. As local and state governments have ordered businesses to close, many employees have either lost their jobs or faced a severe cutback in their hours and income.

Despite this historical moment for the world, your employment rights are a constant. In fact, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act offers employees nationwide additional protections for free COVID-19 testing, paid sick leave, paid childcare leave, and more. We understand this is a challenging time for you, but Bundren Law Firm, P.C. wants you to feel confident about knowing your rights at work.

Read through some commonly asked questions and their answers below. If you think your rights at work have been violated, COVID-19 isn’t a valid excuse. Reach out to us for help.

How Am I Protected by the Families First Coronavirus Act?

This piece of legislation covers a lot of ground, but there’s a few important aspects of it that apply to workers: 12 weeks of federally protected paid sick leave, 10 weeks of paid leave for childcare, and a financial boost of to each state’s unemployment program.

So, I Am Guaranteed Paid Sick Leave?

Maybe. While many will benefit from the new sick leave law, which grants 12 weeks of paid sick leave, not everyone will. First of all, it must be used when COVID-19 is a factor. If an employee is sick for another reason or not sick at all, this new paid leave might not apply. That’s because it’s intended to help people deal with their coronavirus symptoms through self-quarantine and avoid spreading the virus to others at work. Any other use, such as to treat a minor ailment or for vacation time – is not the intent.

Another important consideration is that paid sick leave only applies to workers when their employers have more than 50 but less than 500 employees. If your employer has too few or too many employees to fall within this threshold, the new paid sick leave law does not apply to you.

On the plus side of things, part-time employees will enjoy the same paid sick leave as other qualified employees, although the amount they’ll be paid should equate to their weekly average.

My Kid’s School Is Closed. What About Paid Leave for Childcare?

If your child’s school is closed, as many if not all are at this time, you may be eligible for paid childcare leave. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act extends provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act to provide parents and caregivers 10 weeks of paid leave to care for their children. As with sick leave, however, this protection only applies to workers whose employers have 50-500 employees.

If I Get Laid Off or Put on Unpaid Leave, Can I Sue My Employer?

Maybe. Businesses are strained right now, and if any have closed due to state or federal orders, employers are not obligated to continue your employment if they cannot pay you or if your services are not needed.

That said, your employer can’t use this situation as an opportunity to dismiss you out of discrimination. Intent matters, so if you’re subjected to an employment decision like layoffs or unpaid leave because of your association with a protected class, your employer can be held liable for discrimination.

To be clear, a protected class is a characteristic or group of characteristics such as age, race, skin color, national origin, sex, gender, disability, and other factors. If you can identify with a protected class and you or coworkers of other protected classes were the only ones let go during this time, your employer may have engaged in discrimination and is using COVID-19 as a smokescreen. If that’s the case, you may have grounds to sue.

Can I Sue for Any Other Reasons?

Yes. Speaking with an employment law attorney is your best bet to figuring out if you have a valid claim, but there’s another situation where you’re more than likely to have valid grounds. Whistleblower laws protect you when you speak up about unlawful or unsafe business practices at work, and the COVID-19 pandemic is giving a lot of essential workers reason to make complaints.

If you complained about something such as not getting paid for overtime hours, the cleanliness of your workplace, or not being properly equipped to protect yourself from the coronavirus, and were soon after dismissed from work, it’s possible that you experienced unlawful retaliation.

Perhaps more than any in recent memory, now is a time when the laws that protect workers need to apply and be asserted – especially new ones in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Employers may be ignorant of new provisions, but ignorance isn’t a good reason to break the law. In worse situations, your boss could very well be taking advantage of the confusion of the moment to exploit you. In either case, you could hold them accountable for fair and just compensation through legal action.

What Is Hazard Pay? Am I Entitled to It Right Now?

Hazard pay is compensation for employees who work under dangerous conditions that could seriously hurt or kill them. A common example includes military service members, who are routinely involved in hazardous conditions. However, most of the federal government’s 1.5 million civilian workers are eligible for it as well.

The reality is that no one is actually entitled to hazard pay by law because there is no federal or state law requiring it. Hazard pay is in all cases a result of an employer’s policy or an agreement brokered by a workers’ union. Unless your employer is contractually obligated to offer it, suing for hazard pay during the COVID-19 pandemic has no legal grounds.

Can I Refuse Work Assignments If They’ll Expose Me to the Coronavirus?

Yes. Whistleblower protection laws make it illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for refusing to take on an assignment for safety concerns. This is an important consideration if you know you will be in direct contact with COVID-19 patients and lack a face mask or access to sanitizing agents to protect yourself.

If, however, it can be argued that a reasonable person would determine the requested task safe to perform, then refusing the assignment might not be a legally protected decision.

Can I Sue My Employer If I Caught the Coronavirus at Work?

It’s unlikely. COVID-19 is highly infectious and spreading at a rapid rate, these factors coupled with the fact that it’s something we can’t directly observe mean it would be difficult to prove you became sick as a result of your employer’s negligence. Slips and falls are clearer injuries to prove and hold someone accountable for, but something like COVID-19 can’t be as easily seen or traced back to your job at this point.

What If My Employer Is Breaking the Law?

Your can hold your employer accountable for violating your employment rights by reaching out to an attorney who practices employment law. Our focus at Bundren Law Firm, P.C. is on helping employees assert their rights when an employer is acting out of accord with the law. Now is a time when an employee’s rights matter the most, especially because people are rapidly losing their jobs or putting themselves at serious risk by going to work.

If you have experienced a violation of your rights, reach out to Bundren Law Firm, P.C. online for help or call us directly at (918) 992-3300 for help.

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