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Coronavirus sparks workplace legal questions

Image by Alterio Felines from Pixabay

The novel coronavirus outbreak is bringing up many legal questions in the workplace.

Kim Harding, a partner in the labor and employment group at Nixon Peabody, said they are reviewing for area businesses a number of policies pertaining to working from home, and employer obligations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

It addition, they’re looking through travel, communicable illness and sick leave policies.

“Trying to make sure employees understand their obligations -- when can they report to work, when should they not report to work, when are they permitted to work from home, (and) what are the rules when they work from home,” she said.

Harding said travel policies are a chief concern for many businesses.

“Want to be balancing the risk of exposure at the destination, the employee’s concern about exposure, as well as the business necessity, whether there’s an alternative that might be available instead of sending the employee to this location,” she said.

Harding said employees should look at their employer’s remote work policies to make sure they understand the expectations when they are working from home.

She said it’s important to look at each specific job, and whether the nature of the job permits remote work.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Harding said if an employee has a legitimate belief that there’s a high risk of exposure at the workplace, and there is no alternative, then refusing to go into work is very likely a protected activity.

But she said most of these decisions will be left up to the employer.