How federal laws can protect workers impacted by coronavirus

| Mar 24, 2020 | Employment Law

Coronavirus has put more than just people’s health at risk. Because not everyone has the luxury of working from home, the coronavirus puts some workers at risk of losing their jobs. Even after the disease passes through their system, the loss of a job is still a possibility.

If workers get quarantined, two primary federal laws can provide protections: The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

FMLA can provide protected leave

Under this law, employees can get up to 12 weeks of unpaid protected leave for approved medical reasons. But are employees eligible for sick leave if they are under isolation or quarantine? Initially, it may not seem like those in quarantine who don’t have the virus qualify for medical leave. However, arguably, quarantine or isolation can count as a severe medical condition.

FMLA regulations define “serious health condition” as one that requires some form of medical attention, like a hospital stay. If a worker gets quarantined and they receive medical testing and other types of monitoring that last more than 24 hours, workers could argue these actions qualify as inpatient care.

Recognizing the coronavirus as a disability

While the ADA primarily helps employees with physical and mental disabilities, workers who have the coronavirus could also qualify for protection. For consideration as a disability under the ADA, the condition must substantially hinder one or more major life activities, including walking, sitting, talking and breathing. Depending on how severe a worker’s symptoms are, coronavirus could qualify as a disability. If that’s the case, an employer wouldn’t be able to fire them simply because they’re infected.

Unfortunately, employers can still fire workers with COVID-19 if they need to be physically present to perform their job. However, workers can always request reasonable accommodations that help infected employees perform their duties.

Employee rights still matter during pandemics

Even though Kentucky abides by the Employment-at-Will doctrine, that doesn’t mean all workplace terminations are justified. Employees in all professions maintain fundamental rights and deserve fair treatment.