Worker’s safety will be a priority as South Florida begins to reopen.
Each field will have to overcome their specific set of challenges, however, employers should share the same goal: preventing the coronavirus from spreading at their place of business. Doing so won’t be easy — the Department of Labor only issued a
list of recommendations — but analyzing past legislation can help employees better understand their rights.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act, which laid out acceptable working conditions, has a “general duty clause” that outlines an employer’s basic requirements, says Coral Gables-based employment and labor attorney Diane P. Perez.
“You got to keep employees healthy, safe and alive,” Perez explained with a chuckle.
This could mean a variety of things but may include frequently sanitizing surfaces, enforcing social distancing and the mandatory wearing of masks, according to the Department of Labor’s COVID-19 guidelines. Remember, facial coverings are still a requirement in all Miami-Dade “locations where social distancing measures are not possible” so don’t be pressured into not wearing a mask on the job.
For those deemed as high risk, returning to the workplace presents an even bigger challenge. Ask employers what measures they’re taking to ensure their workers’ safety. Some actions, such as temperature checks, questions about someone’s COVID-19 status or inquiries into certain COVID-related symptoms, could seem invasive but were approved by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the pandemic.
“An employer should be able to put them at ease and say ‘Look, I know you’re scared but we’re doing all of these things… [to keep] you as safe as possible,’” Perez said.
High-risk candidates, including those with preexisting heart conditions and asthma, could also evoke the reasonable accommodation clause of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This would essentially require employers to modify the person in question’s workplace so that they can “perform a job’s essential functions, or enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment,” according to the EEOC.
“The reasonable accommodation may be teleworking where you can telework or being home without pay on leave or maybe it’s putting you to work in a back office where you’re secluded from everyone,” Perez said.
Be mindful, however, that proof is required and, as Perez mentioned, that accommodation could be unpaid leave, which is often not ideal.
Employees could also be entitled to paid leave if they qualify for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act before its Dec. 31 end date. To qualify, a worker must have received medical advice to self-quarantine, be caring for an individual with COVID-19 or match one of the other criteria listed here.
If at any point safety becomes an issue, be sure to bring it up with human resources. The next step would be to seek an attorney.