Many essential employees required to work amid the COVID-19 crisis are concerned about the risks of contracting the virus. They’re left with a dilemma: do they keep working as normal even if they feel that certain job tasks are unsafe? Or do they exercise their employee rights under OSHA and walk off the job? Further convoluting the situation is the fact that many employees are unsure of their options when it comes to legal employee rights.
In an article by Texas Lawyer, employment attorney Rogge Dunn answers questions in an effort to help both employees and employers understand their rights and risks as they pertain to COVID-19.
Here are a few of Dunn’s key points in response to Texas Lawyer’s questions. To read the full article, click here.
Texas Lawyer: Do government workers have the right to walk off their jobs if the working conditions are unsafe due to COVID-19?
Dunn: An OSHA regulation allows employees to refuse to work when serious danger exists that cannot be eliminated. However, employees have to meet four strict requirements in order to be granted workplace safety protections. Because of this, the courts have often ruled in favor of the employer. Government workers can possibly lose their license or face criminal charges if they walk off the job. Therefore, government workers need to proceed carefully. They must weigh the adverse consequences if they refuse to work due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
Texas Lawyer: What about workers in the private sector?
Dunn: The OSHA regulation protection mentioned above applies to public workers as well. However, public workers don’t run the risk of losing their license or facing criminal charges if they refuse to work.
Texas Lawyer: Are there any times where no worker has the right to walk off their jobs?
Dunn: Although the OSHA regulation gives workers an absolute right to walk off their jobs, they could still face serious consequences for doing so.
Texas Lawyer: What are some things attorneys in the labor and employment practice area should be doing during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Dunn: They need to prepare employers for a multitude of legal issues and help them stay compliant with the numerous recently passed federal laws. Employers should seek legal advice to understand employee rights before they take any action against an employee. Attorneys representing employees should familiarize themselves with workplace laws, both new and long-standing, and protections available to employees.
Texas Lawyer: If you are an employer or a worker thinking about litigating, what kinds of questions should you be asking?
Dunn: Employers and employees should work together to find common sense resolutions. When issues arise, employees should approach their employer as a unified group. An employer must consider the risks, both from a legal and reputation standpoint, for firing or retaliating against employees who refuse to work.