We’ve received lots of questions from employees about the coronavirus and their rights under the new Coronavirus Response Act.  To say that things are murky right now would be an understatement.  It’s no wonder employees are confused.  Below are some answers to common questions:

Q: Can my employer force me to come into the workplace?

A:  It depends.  If you work in an essential industry, and you are healthy and not subject to a medical quarantine, then yes.  Illinois has developed a rather long list of essential businesses and operations.  If you work for one of these business or in one of these industries then you most likely need to come to work.  However, we have noticed that some employers are deeming themselves “essential” when they are not.  If your employer is doing this, it is unlawful.

Q:  What if I work in an essential industry but have a medical condition that makes me more susceptible to COVID-19?

A:  You may be able to request an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The Illinois Human Rights Act also provides protections for those in Illinois.  The ADA requires employers to accommodate employees who have disabilities.  Several conditions that create increased susceptibility to the virus could qualify as disabilities such as autoimmune conditions and cancer and/or history of cancer treatment.

Q: If a company terminates me as part of a coronavirus-related reduction in force is there anything I can do about it?

A: Even though we are in the midst of a pandemic the federal and state anti-discrimination laws all still apply.  That means that even if a company has to make tough layoff decisions it cannot make those in a discriminatory way.  For instance, a company could not choose to layoff a pregnant woman instead of a man if that pregnant woman is more experienced and more qualified.  The company may want to do so because the woman will be taking a maternity leave anyway, but factoring in her pregnancy or upcoming leave is discriminatory.  The same is true for choosing people with disabilities over non-disabled people to try to avoid employing a person who is more likely to need leave.

Q:  Do all employers have to offer paid leave under the Coronavirus Response Act.

A:  No.  First, companies with 500 or more employees don’t have to offer it at all, although they do still have to offer unpaid FMLA leave.  Second, businesses with 50 employees or less can seek an exemption from offering the paid leave to those needing it to care for children out of school if they can show that it would be detrimental to the continued viability of their business.  There are several factors that go into this consideration.  The Department of Labor issued guidance on this issue but that guidance leaves more questions than answers.  As a result, each situation must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.  If you need paid leave to care for a child home from school as a result of the lockdown and need to know if your employer’s exemption is valid, contact us.

Q: Are part-time employees entitled to paid sick leave under the relief act? 

A:  Yes.

This is likely the first of several installments related to employees’ questions about the Coronavirus.  In the meantime, if you have any questions or need help navigating this “new normal” contact us.  We’re here to help.