During COVID-19, many workers are understandably fearful about returning to work. Employers who are trying to reopen, on the other hand, may not be so understanding. But can you be fired? The answer is it depends.
You Can Generally Be Fired for Refusing to Work
Under normal circumstances, you can be fired for refusing to work for any reason. You may not like the current conditions of your job, but your employer generally has the right to define those conditions, and you can choose whether to work under them or not. If you are not available when asked to work, your employer has no obligation to retain you.
There Is No Protection for Fear of Illness
There are no protections because you're afraid of getting sick even when it's something serious like COVID-19. Laws like the American Disabilities Act generally apply to illnesses you already have. Even if you have become ill, your employer is only required to make reasonable accommodations. If you've exhausted your leave or there are no other positions you could move to, it may be a reasonable accommodation for you to not return to work even if you request unpaid time off.
Your Employee Handbook May Say Different
The first place to look if you think your rights have been violated as a result of not wanting to work during COVID-19 is your employee handbook. At some companies, this is a firm contract. At others, it is only a set of guidelines that your employer isn't legally obligated to follow. Either way, your company may give you certain rights including unpaid time off for health reasons. It may also require a certain level of protection that they aren't providing. If you believe your rights have been violated, you should speak with an attorney.
Local Laws May Give Protections
If you think what you've read so far is unfair, some local governments agree. You may have a local ordinance in your area that says employers can't fire anyone who doesn't want to work during COVID-19. Your employer may also have to provide certain protections or benefits like paid time off. If your employer has violated those laws, you almost certainly have a case for either getting your job back or receiving compensation for your unfair treatment.
To learn more about whether your rights have been violated and what you can do, talk to local employment law representation today.