Back To Work: What Protections And Rights Do You Have As An Employee?

Back To Work: What Protections And Rights Do You Have As An Employee?
Three experts weigh in on employee rights as more states reopen for business.

As more states reopen for business, we wanted to explore what rights employees have when they're asked to go back to work. So we asked three questions to three experts. 

Question No. 1: Do I need to go back to work if my boss requires it, but I feel unsafe?

Richard Roth, labor attorney at The Roth Law Firm: "There is recently enacted legislation called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. And what that act provides is if you can meet one of those six criteria, you need not go back to work. It has to be a diagnosis. It has to be caring for the elderly or caring for a child or something to allow you time off from work. If you meet one of those six criteria, you're in good shape. If you do not, then you do have to report to work."

And if you don't meet any of the requirements and choose not to go, there could be repercussions. 

David Lewis, CEO of HR company Operations Inc says, "They may choose to go ahead and terminate your employment at that moment in time, because you're refusing to come back." 

Question No. 2: My company isn't following safety laws. How do I report them without getting in trouble?

Roth: "You have to go to HR, because HR wants to know. ... They want to make sure they're in compliance, because the last thing they want is a regulator showing up and fining them for violating that law."

Alexia Fern├índez Campbell, workers' rights reporter at the Center for Public Integrity: "I don't agree with that. As you know, I write a lot about workers' rights. I've realized that HR doesn't always have an employee's best interest. Like, their job is to protect the company. And part of their job protecting the company's making sure employees are safe, but you could risk retaliation." 

While our experts don't agree on reporting safety violations to HR, they all agree that OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and your state's safety board are a safe bet.  

Lewis: "Those organizations do not tell your employer that you specifically made those complaints. In fact, in most instances, they're not allowed to. They have to maintain a level of privacy." 

And our final question: What are my rights? Can I ask for a mask, gloves, face shields, transportation to and from work?

Fernández Campbell: "No, you don't have any right. ... No, they they don't have any legal obligation to protect the workers from respiratory infectious diseases."

Roth: "All I think the employee should do is just to press, but make sure they don't, in any way, lose their job."

Cat Sandoval, Newsy, Chicago.