Employment questions regarding COVID-19 closures? Here are your rights

Published: Mar. 24, 2020 at 5:29 PM CDT
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Jeff Paradowski, attorney at law, practices workplace law in the Brazos Valley. He expects to see cases related to COVID-19 lay-offs in the coming months.

“There is no doubt that there is going to be a number of these issues that have to be resolved and hashed out,” said Paradowski.

As area communities, including Brazos and Milam counties, sign shelter-in-place orders, non-essential services are required to close. While the list of exemptions of essential services is long, this still means that many local businesses will have to shut their doors. Employees of those businesses will often be laid off or let go entirely.

For some, Paradowski cites the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, which provides more protections for employees who lose their jobs, temporarily or permanently, due to COVID-19 closures.

“It’s namely pay protection,” said Paradowski on First News at Four. “Certain employees are going to be entitled to up to 80 hours of paid leave, and their job is going to be protected for 12 weeks.”

However, in an effort not to place a large burden on small business owners, businesses employing 50 or fewer people are exempt from this legislation. (If you are facing unemployment, see the related links for what to do.)

On the other hand, many local employees still have a job—those who work doing “essential services,” as defined by applicable ordinances.

So what happens if you work for an essential service, but you don’t feel comfortable doing your job because of possible exposure to COVID-19?

Paradowski says that you might be out of luck.

“We’re still working through a lot of these issues,” said Paradowski. “This is new. This is novel. But we are employment-at-will, and if you’re not willing to show up and do the job…the employer can fire you.”

An exception could be raised after the fact—likely in a court document.

“You can make the argument if you have a reasonable belief that the work environment is not safe. You can make that argument and maybe have recourse against your employer at some later date,” Paradowski said.

If you are concerned that your workplace is remaining open unsafely and/or against the regulations of city or county ordinances, call the city or county where the business is located.

For the full conversation, see the video player above.

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