FAQ: What are my rights to a safe workplace with COVID-19 around?
Please note: This FAQ is current as of May 29, 2020. The law can change quickly. Check back later for new FAQs on this issue. This is information only, NOT legal advice. If you need legal advice, talk to a lawyer.
Do I have a right to make my employer protect me from COVID-19?
Maybe (it depends), but for many employees, probably not. You might have rights to make your employer do something it is not doing to protect you from COVID-19, if you have a contract that covers it, or your job is one that is protected by laws that cover this situation. Most workers can only ask their employers to do the right thing, or take action against their employer if they get sick because their employer didn’t do something they should have. You can also report your employer to a government agency that might be able to take action for you.
What should my employer be doing to protect me from COVID-19?
Two federal agencies, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), have recommendations for safer workplaces. Some recommendations cover all jobs, but some types of work have specific guidelines. The Louisiana Department of Health encourages employers to follow federal guidelines. Your state, parish or local governments may have other recommendations or orders for your area or type of work. Government recommendations can be detailed, and may change with time, so check with all these sources for changes as time goes by. Now, though, most recommend at least these very basic measures at a minimum:
- Wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
- Measuring of employees’ temperatures and check for other COVID-19 symptoms prior to starting work.
- Increased frequency of cleaning commonly touched surfaces.
- Increased availability and frequency of hand-washing and other ways to avoid spreading the virus.
- Separating symptomatic, sick, or exposed employees from the healthy, and informing employees when they have been exposed.
- Proper and safe use of cleaning and disinfecting supplies used in the workplace.
- Allow employees to leave if starting to experience symptoms related to COVID-19.
Who can I call to hold my employer accountable for ensuring my safety?
You can call OSHA to report emergencies, unsafe working conditions, safety and health violations, to file a complaint, or to ask safety and health questions. The number is 800-321- 6742 (OSHA). You can find other ways to reach OSHA here. You can also call the Louisiana State Fire Marshall’s office to file a complaint for any unsafe working conditions at 800-256- 5452. Other ways of reaching the Louisiana State Fire Marshall’s office can be found here.
You can also try other local, parish or state health department, or your city, parish or state government. If you don’t know where to report, you can contact your city or parish councilperson, or state representative, to explain your concern and find out where to report.
If you think you may have a personal legal claim because your employer’s action or inaction hurt you or made you sick, talk to a lawyer. All legal claims have time limits for action.