COVID-19 has completely altered the way we live and work. From reducing our social interactions to working remotely, we are doing everything possible to avoid contracting the virus, reducing its spread, and preventing further variants from developing and extending the pandemic. Managing and accommodating individual policies and procedures to respond to the virus is uncharted territory for many businesses. As the pandemic progresses, employees may refuse to come into the office out of fear of contracting the virus. This leaves businesses wondering what to do if an employee refuses to come to work.
Do Employers Have Any Formal Obligations During a Pandemic?
Yes, employers have formal obligations during a pandemic. The most important one is maintaining a safe and healthy workplace for all employees. This is enforced by federal law through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The obligation of a safe and healthy work environment for employees includes protecting them from any potential health hazards, including COVID-19. Employers are also responsible for ensuring that their employees have access to the necessary information, training, and resources to protect themselves from the virus while working for the organization.
What Happens If an Employee Refuses to Come to Work?
If an employee refuses to come into work for fear of contracting COVID-19, the employer should first try to understand why the employee is refusing to come in. Employers should also be aware that they cannot force employees to come to work if they reasonably fear contracting the virus. Suppose an employee refuses to go to work after being provided information about the virus and its risks. In that case, the employee must provide evidence that their organization is not structured and equipped to keep employees safe from contracting the virus during work operations.
What Should an Employee Document to Prove Unsafe Working Conditions for COVID-19?
To prove that their refusal to come into work is based on a reasonable fear of contracting COVID-19, employees should document any unsafe working conditions they observe. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Lack of hand sanitizing stations or supplies.
- Employees working in close contact with others when not wearing face masks.
- Employees working in a visibly dirty environment.
- Employers not providing employees with the necessary information, training, or resources to protect themselves from COVID-19.
If an employee can provide evidence of any unsafe working conditions, the employer should try to remedy the situation as soon as possible. If the unsafe conditions cannot be remedied, the employer may allow the employee to work from home. If working from home is not an option, the individual employee needs to officially file a complaint with OSHA to ensure that the employer complies with federal law.
Do I Still Pay an Employee Who Refuses to Come In?
OSHA does not have any formal policies that require employers to pay employees who refuse to come to work. This is true even if the employee has justifiable reasons for refusing to come to work. However, some employers choose to pay their employees who cannot come in during a pandemic out of goodwill and to ensure that the employee does not suffer any financial hardship. It would be in an organization’s best interest to immediately remedy any unsafe working conditions that are causing employees to refuse to come to work. This will help ensure that the employee returns to work as soon as possible and prevents any potential legal issues from arising regarding wage violations.
Can Employees Quit and Collect Unemployment Due to Fear of Contracting COVID-19 At Work?
To qualify for unemployment benefits, employees must meet specific eligibility requirements. One of the most common reasons employees do not qualify for unemployment benefits is quitting their job without a good cause. The specific factors of the working environment and the individual’s reasoning for leaving make these issues complicated and must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Some employees will qualify for unemployment after proving a “good cause” for quitting due to specific working conditions outlined at their organization, if they need to care for a sick loved one who has contracted COVID-19, or if they need to take a medical leave.
Tips for Employers on How to Manage Employees Who Are Refusing to Come Into Work
Employers across the country and the state of California have been struggling to manage employees who are refusing to come into work for fear of contracting COVID-19. As an employer, there are a few things you can do to try to alleviate the situation:
- Educate your employees about COVID-19 and the risks associated with it. Make sure they are aware of the precautions they can take to protect themselves.
- Make sure your workplace is clean and free of any potential contaminants. Invest in proper sanitizing supplies and ensure employees follow proper hygiene protocols.
- Try to create a sense of community in the workplace. This can help ease any fears employees may have about contracting the virus. Let everyone know that you are all in this together, and that everyone should work diligently to keep the workplace safe.
- If possible, allow employees to work from home from time to time if they feel unsafe coming into the office. This can help prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace.
- Keep communication open with your employees. Make sure they know that you are available to answer any questions or address any concerns they may have.
Make sure to follow all applicable government regulations and guidelines when managing employees during a pandemic.
Following these tips, in addition to your unique solutions to address the situation, should help manage employees who are refusing to come to work. Remember that communication is critical in these situations, and be sure to stay patient and understanding with your employees. As the situation progresses, things may change, and you will need to be flexible to adapt to the realities of an evolving pandemic.
Consult With California Employment Counsel for More Expert Advice
If you are an employer in California and are struggling to manage employees who refuse to come to work, it is vital to seek legal advice. The employment attorneys at California Employment Counsel are experienced in dealing with these situations and can provide you with the expert guidance you need. Contact us today to explore your legal options and learn more about how we can help your business thrive during these difficult times.