When the pandemic hit for the first time, back in March 2023, a lot of people didn’t know what to do and how to behave. It was all unclear, especially when it comes to employers and workers, but also for students, and young people who fight for their future. There were very difficult times, but no one knew it would be an ongoing crisis that will affect all fields of life. In the first place, we needed to take care of our health, but one of the most common issues was keeping the job we have, or preventing the companies and businesses to collapse under the pressure.
In the whole world, there were examples of ruined employee rights, without even giving them an option to choose to work for a lower salary. The people had a lot of questions back then, and they have questions today too, but law offices like Bibiyan Law Group have answers to most of them.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of wrongful termination cases too, because a lot of employers decided to fire certain people, because of their limitations and inability to perform the same like the others, but are still paid equally. The laws define wrongful termination as prevention the employer to fire workers because of their age, race, gender, disabilities, but also for religion, political beliefs, being on medical leave, being pregnant, who are victims of abuse, who ask for better workplace conditions, or termination without a cause.
A lot of people aren’t aware of their rights as workers, because the bosses are those who have the last word in these cases. That results in a large volume of people who are able to work, but don’t have a job, because they don’t know which rights, tools, and laws they have.
Here are some of the things every worker must be aware of, when it comes to their rights during the pandemic, in California:
1. Taking paid sick days is allowed, according to the requirements and policies
A person can take sick days if they are positive for the coronavirus, as recommended by healthcare providers. The advice is to self-quarantine themselves, seek medical assistance, or take sick days if a child or other family member has COVID-19. California established a new federal law to cover all these things, known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, so the employees can take up to 14 days of paid sick leave for the situations we described above. But, this act is only for companies with less than 500 employees. For all the others, the conditions are defined by the Family Medical Leave Act or California Family Rights Act. The State Disability Insurance is for the people who still can’t go back to work after those 14 days.
2. Rights for people who can’t be vaccinated
We don’t talk about anti-vaxxers here. There are people who have immunity issues, who can’t get their regular shots, and COVID-19 vaccines are too risky for them. In this case, they have a right to be away from the others, to go outside to eat or drink, so they won’t remove the masks inside and maintain distance with the coworkers unless they are fully vaccinated. Also, you can ask for the windows to be open for a longer time, so the fresh air can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19.
3. Special training in a case of emergency
The staff must be trained to behave and act properly in a case of emergency. The coronavirus is unpredictable, and it may get worse even for people who were sick a long time ago. Their coworkers should know what to do if something like that happens.
4. The rights if you get sick at work
If you were exposed to COVID-19 at work, the employer should pay the leave or work from home, according to the regular wage. Also, keep in mind that they shouldn’t stop you to get the vaccine, since you need to be respectful of the day and time you got. If you get post-vaccine symptoms, you can take a few days off, which is still paid, to recover.
5. About the protective equipment
All the workers must wear masks indoors, and your coworkers and bosses can’t discourage you from this. The only exception is if you have some medical condition, or the situation allows you not to wear it (you are alone in the office, and no one comes there). Also, you have to wear an N95 mask for better protection if you are unvaccinated. Some of the employers may provide the equipment, as needed. Still, some workers prefer to bring their own masks, soap, or other items to protect themselves. You have to replace the mask if it’s deformed, dirty, and you can’t breathe through it. When it comes to washing your hands, we learned that it takes more than a few seconds to do that properly. Also, the workplace must have hand sanitizers at a few spots. Every worker must be provided with enough time for personal hygiene.
6. Other rights
If you have been fired or forced to unpaid leave, you have a right to report it to the California Employment Development Department, so you can enjoy some of the insurance benefits, as eligible to them.
If you feel the working environment isn’t safe for you, and your employers and coworkers put you at risk, you are protected under the California Occupational Safety and Health Act and California Labor Code 6311, and you can file a complaint about that.
In the end, if you lose someone you love because of the pandemic, you have to report it to the employer, so you can take your time, according to the federal and state laws.
Many workers weren’t aware of their rights to proper health prevention at work until the pandemic hit. But one thing is for sure – after the whole coronavirus thing is over, we will be more aware of these rights. Sometimes, they may save our life, and let us get the healthcare we need, without limitations from the work.