Date: March 12, 2020

Washingtonian Magazine interviewed TELG's Scott Oswald about the rights that DC-area employees might assert amid the early stages of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic, including a discussion of layoffs, furloughs, and work-at-home orders — and, conversely, orders to continue working despite fear of infection. IMPORTANT: Workplace laws and rules regarding COVID-19 have been changing rapidly; please consult an employment lawyer for up-to-date advice.

"Be specific and expansive when making leave requests to protect yourself from employer retaliation."

R. Scott Oswald

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What Are Your Workers’ Rights During Coronavirus?

As quarantines and work-from-home orders are becoming more widespread, here’s what you need to know

We put a bunch of questions to attorney R. Scott Oswald from the Employment Law Group and summarized his responses:

I have an underlying condition that makes me more at-risk for complications from COVID-19. Do I have the right to work from home and/or take leave?

Yes. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, workers who have a condition that could be exacerbated by the virus have the right to ask to telework or take leave. This could include individuals with diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or people who are immunocompromised. Those with anxiety or other mental health conditions that are exacerbated by fear of the virus could also request remote work or leave. It’s ultimately up to an employer’s discretion whether the request is reasonable, so Oswald says to be “specific and expansive” when making requests to protect yourself from employer retaliation.

I work a job where I’m considered an “essential employee.” Does that mean I still have to come to work when some coworkers are allowed to work from home?

It depends. If those coworkers are “nonessential employees” and your work can’t be done remotely, then yes. But if you can do your work remotely, you likely have the right to work from home as well. Likewise, if your work requires in-person interaction, but coworkers with the same position are being allowed to leave (like if you’re a waiter and other waiters are being sent home), then you have a right to take leave as well.

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