In New York State, more than 35,000 individuals have died from COVID-19. In addition, more than 1,000,000 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. So many aspects of life have been impacted by the global pandemic and workers’ rights have been no exception.
At Brown Kwon & Lam, we know the fragility of COVID-19 has made workers’ fear of safety, employment security, and rights become a balancing act. We’ve compiled a list of COVID-19 workplace rights issues you should know.
COVID-19 Workers Rights & Disability
As a result of COVID-19, employers had to rethink their employment policies when it comes to disability discrimination. As the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many traditional office jobs into a remote setting, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has developed accommodation guidelines. Accommodations include:
- Employees with a disability may request reasonable accommodations that could offer protection from COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.
- Employees with certain pre-existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, may have more difficulty handling the disruptions caused by COVID-19. In order to provide accommodations, employers may ask questions about the disability.
- Employees are not entitled to accommodation in order to avoid exposing a family member who is at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition.
Under federal and state laws, employees are still protected by the:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Rehabilitation Act
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
COVID-19 Vaccination & Discrimination
As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes readily available, employees may wonder what obligations they will have to employers if they have a religious objection or medical objection to the coronavirus vaccination. If you have a religious objection to the COVID-19 vaccine, here is what you need to know.
- 1. Reasonable accommodations must be given to an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances should such beliefs not permit vaccinations unless such accommodation poses undue hardship under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- 2. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employee is permitted to request an exception to mandatory vaccinations for a disability which would stop him or her from getting the vaccine, unless it poses an undue hardship on the employer.
Whistleblower Protections and Coronavirus – Workplace Rights
Since the onset of COVID-19, many New York employees have feared retaliation or have already faced wrongful termination as a result of raising concerns for workplace safety during a global pandemic.
As a result, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted protections for New York State and City employees during this uneasy time. Employees may file complaints against employers for the following reasons including, but not limited to:
- You are/were being forced to work at a business that is not allowed to operate
- You are being forced to work for a business that is allowed to operate, however, (1) your employer is not taking proper safety and health precautions, (2) you have particular concerns because you or a family member are part of a vulnerable population
- Your employer has failed to pay you wages owed for hours worked, earned sick pay, or paid time off
- Your employer has threatened or fired you for reasons related to COVID-19
- You qualify for COVID-19 paid sick leave and your employer refuses to pay it
- Your employer is forcing you to work when you are sick
Unfortunately, employees still fear retaliation as whistleblower protections are still not in a place they need to be as the virus is one year in.
COVID-19 Sick Leave Laws
Though not directly tied to COVID-19, New York State has put a paid sick leave law into place. Effective September 30, employers are now required to begin recording accruals for paid sick leave for every employee, and the accrued time will carry over year to year starting January 1, 2021. New York State Sick Leave explains that employees are to receive sick leave benefits at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. An employer can also elect to frontload all sick time at the start of the year. The minimum hours that an employee may use each year are determined based on employer size and income as follows:
- 1-4 Employees: 40 hours of unpaid sick leave
- 1-4 Employees with employer net income greater than $1 million: 40 hours of paid sick leave
- 5 to 99 Employees: 40 hours of paid sick leave
- 100+ Employees: 56 hours of paid sick leave
Sick leave time under the law can be used for any of the following conditions for the employee or the employee’s family member:
- Mental/physical illness, injury, or health condition
- Diagnosis, care, or treatment of mental/physical illness, injury, or health condition
- Domestic violence services and assistance
New York State Employee Rights In COVID-19 Era
New York employees have a right to a safe work environment, to be free of discriminatory practices, and to take care of the ones they love. But when COVID-19 complicates your day-to-day, you have options.
Brown Kwon & Lam is here for your New York employee rights in the COVID-19 era. Contact us today.