Office Return Brings Covid Legal Risks
Nov 25 2022

Employment lawyer Colin Walker and the company`s head of human resources, Adam McCoy, discuss HR considerations for returning to the office, including hybrid work schedules, avoiding discrimination complaints when setting office hours, maintaining company culture, and when contacting your employment lawyer. And while I know of no legal obligation in the United States to report to others, it is no exaggeration to compare their silence now to that of those imprisoned for knowingly spreading herpes and AIDS. There are still legal landmines for companies facing demands for remote work. Workers also filed a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, such as a pregnant human relations officer from Wisconsin who had gestational diabetes and was allegedly denied telework even though she had previously worked remotely. Another Florida worker, who said the pandemic has exacerbated her mental health issues, sued her employer after it rejected her application for home housing. Accommodations may include additional or improved gowns, masks, gloves or other protective equipment beyond what the employer typically provides to workers returning to work. Accommodation may also include additional or enhanced safeguards, such as: erecting a barrier that allows separation between an employee with a disability and colleagues/the public, or increasing the space between an employee with a disability and others. Another reasonable precaution that may be possible to eliminate or replace certain “marginal” functions (less critical or random work tasks as opposed to the “essential” functions of a particular position). In addition, accommodation may include a temporary change in working hours (if this reduces contact with colleagues and/or the public on duty or on the way to the journey) or the relocation of the place where the work is carried out (for example, moving a person to the end of a production line rather than the middle, if it allows for greater social distancing). Goodwin postpones return of offices to November amid spreading delta As Americans return to the offices, stores, restaurants and factories they left months ago, employers are grappling with the legal consequences of American workers returning to work as the pandemic continues to spread. In the absence of a cure or vaccination for Covid-19 still in place, two things are certain: people will get sick and many will end up in court, demanding safer working conditions or compensation for lost wages and medical bills. Generally, an employer can fire you if you refuse to return to work.

Most workers in the U.S. are employed “at will,” meaning an employer can fire them for any reason that isn`t considered illegal, says James Brudney, a professor of labor law at Fordham University School of Law in New York. Both lawyers agree that there is no obligation to serve everyone unless you avoid someone for clearly illegal reasons, such as race, religion or national origin. They also believe that a polite way to deal with a coughing customer would be for restaurant staff to say, “We`re concerned about what`s happening with the coronavirus. If you go out please, I will bring you the food. Most deaths from Covid-19 have occurred in people aged 55 or older, who are at higher risk of infection. Companies that force older workers to return too early, or avoid older applicants for fear of their vulnerability to Covid, could therefore become the target of discrimination lawsuits, Estreicher says. Young workers with serious underlying illnesses could also have legal claims, while employers who dig too deep into the medical history of employees or candidates could lead to allegations of data breaches, he says. “Out of an abundance of caution, we are changing our approach to U.S. office operations,” managing partner Mark Bettencourt wrote in an internal memo Monday. The new voluntary participation policy is valid until March 14. G.4.

The CDC identifies a number of medical conditions that could put individuals at “higher risk of severe illness” if they contract COVID-19. An employer knows that an employee has one of these conditions and is concerned that his or her health will be endangered when he or she returns to work, but the employee has not requested accommodation. How does the ADA apply to this situation? (07.05.20) Question: I work from home and I learned from the vineyard that my company uses some kind of tracking software to monitor me and my employees. There are rumors that they even access the cameras on our company`s laptops. Is it legal? The legal industry`s approach to reopening offices has changed with the waves of the pandemic. The Delta variant has prompted many law firms to tighten vaccination mandates and postpone widespread repatriations until the fall, while some have opted to wait until next year. Companies are now pricing fears of a possible Omicron wave with optimism that vaccines will deter the virus, even if it stays here. The desire of some companies to return to normal has led to an increase in requests from workers with disabilities – those with chronic conditions that put them at risk of severe Covid infections, anxiety and depression, and other mobility limitations – for remote options as accommodations under federal disability law. say labour lawyers. Sanford estimates that a quarter of his firm`s 100 lawyers and employees have not worked in their offices because they joined Sanford Heisler during the pandemic.

Rosenlieb: Maybe. The topics of privacy and the surveillance of communication, movement and productivity (in the traditional office environment and in “working from home”) are much discussed and sometimes hotly debated. Restrictions and prohibitions on employee surveillance vary from state to state and are subject to federal national labor relations law. An employer, outside of an investigation of suspected criminal activity, will be most successful in these areas by informing employees in advance of the steps taken to monitor all forms of communication (e.g., emails, voice messages, phone calls), movement (e.g., GPS trackers on delivery vehicles), and productivity (e.g., software that tracks productivity). All of these steps are generally legal and restricted. Political announcements taken into account by employees are usually the best form of communication. Employees should never be aware of these problems through the “vine”. This is a complex area and employers are well advised to consult legal counsel in their state before proceeding. Meanwhile, workers said they quit instead of coming forward in person, as many companies amplified the value of office culture. Employers have ample power to fire anyone who doesn`t want to work in an office, but their argument can be weakened if they refuse to accept a disabled employee who has been working remotely for more than a year. If the employer is concerned that the employee`s health will be compromised upon their return to work, the ADA does not allow the employer to exclude the employee — or take other adverse action — simply because the employee has a disability that the CDC identifies as potentially “higher risk of severe illness” if they contract COVID-19.