The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it not only unprecedented health challenges and issues, but unprecedented workplace challenges and issues, too.
While every work location is different, many of the issues related to Covid-19 are quite common to all situations. As examples, (a) required face mask use by employees, (b) arranged social distancing, and (c) availability of staggered hours. At the same time, every employee is unique, with different needs, health, families and concerns.
A. Workplace Safety for Employees is Required by the Law. There are no “Covid-19 Exceptions.”
Both Federal and State laws require that employers provide their employees with a safe workplace. That may take the form of an environment free from danger to health and life, equipment to limit work-related risks, protective clothing, and arrangements that promote health and safety from danger. Since the Covid-19 virus presents us with new safety challenges, it requires that employers take new, never-before safety steps to protect their employees.
Thus, it may be wise that you ask your employer – in writing – what steps are being taken to protect you and your colleagues. The information you may learn – or that might be denied you – may form the factual basis for requesting an accommodation or modification, or leverage to negotiate an amicable departure in case you are denied them.
• COVID-19 Model Letter A – “What Steps are We Taking to Promote Covid-19 Safety?” With 32 Sample Questions:
This Model Letter is where most employees should begin. It shows you what to ask for, and how to ask, regarding information that may be of great value to you in determining whether you can safely return to work, regardless of whether your workplace is an office, a factory, a restaurant, out of doors, or otherwise.
B. U.S. employees have a variety of valuable legal rights that may help them deal with aspects of their Covid-19 issues, circumstances and concerns.
Under U.S. federal law, and the laws in most U.S. states, an employee has a legal right to (a) workplace safety, (b) a reasonable accommodation so they can work despite a disability of some kind, (c) up to 12 weeks off if they or a family member has a medical or emotional need for them to remain home (though without pay), (d) in some locales time off for parental leave under various circumstances, (e) unemployment benefits and even possibly (f) severance payments if they decline to return to the workplace.
• COVID-19 Model Letter B – Request for Exception, Modification or Accommodation to Your Employer’s Covid-19 Arrangements and Procedures:
This Covid-19 Model Letter B contains 24 special requests you may make in light of your workplace, your health or your family circumstance, along with the good reasons you can offer to support them. They include, among many others, requests for (1) continued work from home, (2) staggered work hours, (3) being seated near open windows, (4) a childcare subsidy, (5) safety from angry customers, (6) less crowded elevators, (6) 14 days of self-quarantine, (7) a change in the way your performance is evaluated, and many more. It shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.”™
C. To exercise your legal rights under FMLA, or for Short Term Disability Benefits, you will need to request your employer’s procedures, forms and other requirements.
The federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) grants employees who are facing either their own medical or emotional difficulties, or those of a family member, the right to take up to 12 weeks off, without pay. It also provides that, in most instances, they are entitled to their job upon return, provided their job still exists.
For those with family members who are not well, or themselves not well, it may be very helpful to request their employer’s forms and procedures for each. Just making the request, by email, affords the employee a certain level of “legal protection, and a kind of “leverage” in that a record is made of your intention to exercise such legal rights.
For more information on FMLA, simply [Click Here.]
In addition, you might want to ask for the papers and procedures you need to apply for Short Term Disability, an employment benefit that you may lose if you are no longer working.
For more information on Short Term Disability, just [Click Here.]
• COVID-19 Model Letter C – Request for Forms and Procedures for FMLA and Short Term Disability:
When requesting FMLA forms and Disability information, this Model Letter shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.”
D. If you decide not to “go back,” consider using our “Involuntary Resignation.”
Usually, resigning from your job is a voluntary act. But not always. As examples, as an employee you are not required to endanger your life, or help your employer break the law, or accept improper behaviors or health risks. In cases like those – and when you are required to work in an unsafe workplace – your declining to return to work, or leaving your job, is not voluntary at all. If you resign and mention this when you resign – in writing – you may be entitled to (a) unemployment, (b) severance, or to (c) exert a claim for violation of workplace safety when submitting an Involuntary Resignation.
To Read More About Involuntary Resignation, just [Click Here.]
• COVID-19 Model Letter D – Involuntary Resignation:
For the past 20 years, thousands of employees have used our “Involuntary Resignation” to their great advantage. A great idea.
This Model Letter shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.”™
E. Generally, employees who resign, or decline to return to work, are ineligible for Unemployment Insurance. But they are likely to be held eligible if they had Good Reason to “Resign Involuntarily.”
If you are terminated for not returning to an unsafe workplace, or if you have involuntarily resigned for declining to “go back,” when applying for Unemployment Benefits, it is important that you alert your local Unemployment Benefits Office of those facts, because it may well entitle you to unemployment benefits, even though resigning employees are usually denied them.
• COVID-19 Model Letter E – To Unemployment Agency Explaining Involuntary Resignation:
This Model Letter is one we suggest you might use in this circumstance. It could make the difference in your being found eligible for Unemployment Benefits.
F. If not “coming back,” you might want to Request a Severance Package.
Whether or not you have been asked to return to your workplace, if you do not want or plan to return to your workplace or job, it may be wise to respectfully request that a severance package be given to you, for which you would be willing, in return, to sign a release of claims.
While very few employees have a right to be paid severance, most fired, downsized or laid off employees are provided severance packages by their employees. Well, in some ways the Covid-19 pandemic is similar to being downsized or laid off – that is, not due to a performance issue or a misconduct allegation; There is absolutely no good reason at least to make such a request.
• COVID-19 Model Letter F – Requesting a Severance Package:
This Model Letter shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.”™
G. Our 100-Point Master Guide and Checklist for Covid-19 Work Concerns.
To give blog readers a helping hand to move ahead in the wisest way, from our clients’ experiences with COVID-19 issues, we have compiled our 100-Point Guide and Checklist for COVID-19. Simply put, there is nothing like it anywhere.
• COVID-19 Master Guide/Checklist – 100 Steps in a Complete Covid-19 Response:
This Master Guide and Checklist is unavailable anywhere else. It’s a step-by-step Guide to helping you get through the “darkness” we presently face.
• COVID-19 “CHOOSE ANY 3” – Email Your Preferences to Vanessa@ExecutiveLaw.com or call (212) 757-5000; and pay the discounted fee by credit card at a 27% discount:
a 27% discount
• COVID-19 PHONE CONSULTATION – Telephone Consultation with Mr. Sklover regarding Your Covid-19 Issues:
45 minutes (or so) by Telephone; evenings and weekends may be arranged.
Ideas, Suggestions, Comments Would Be Appreciated.
The Model Memos and Letters noted above are our best effort to help you address the Covid-19-related issues you face at work. If you have any ideas, suggestions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.