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If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, it is important to understand your rights as an employee, from your ability to take protected and paid leave, to actions your employer can take for safety purposes that may seem like an invasion of your personal space or privacy. The following are frequently asked questions about COVID-related employee rights and answers to those questions.

Can I Take Leave and Come Back to My Job? 

Yes—you can take leave as a result of a COVID-19 diagnosis or illness and come back to your job. You should know that you may be eligible to receive up to two weeks of paid sick leave under The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA), a recently passed federal law designed to protect employees who are sick or caring for family members as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Employees may be eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave under the EPSLA if they work for a private company with fewer than 500 employees or if they work for a governmental agency.  Certain provisions may not apply to certain employers with fewer than 50 employees.  

Even if you do not qualify for paid sick leave under the EPSLA, your job may still be protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if your COVID-19 diagnosis and your illness rises to the level of a “serious health condition” as it is defined by the FMLA. Under the FMLA, an employee can be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if that employee has a serious health condition, or if an employee needs to take time off to care for a family member with a serious health condition. FMLA allows an employee up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a one-year period. All 12 weeks of unpaid leave do not need to be taken at the same time. You may also be eligible to combine paid sick leave time with your rights to FMLA unpaid, job-protected leave so that part of your FMLA leave is paid.

You should be sure to consult your company’s leave policies when taking or requesting leave. You may need to abide by workplace requirements.

Can I be Fired for Getting COVID-19? 

Probably not. Both the FMLA and the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) protect employees who need to take time off due to a medical condition, and due to COVID-19 specifically. Further, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against an employee who is disabled. A COVID-19 infection may result in certain employees qualifying as disabled under the ADA, especially if an employee has an underlying condition that makes a COVID-19 infection serious.

While you probably cannot be fired for contracting COVID-19, your employer can lawfully fire you if you are absent from work without taking proper leave or following workplace protocols. You should always follow your employer’s workplace policies to protect yourself.

Can My Employer Take My Temperature Before Allowing Me to Return to Work? 

Yes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance as of March 2020, which allows ADA-covered employers to take their employees’ temperatures. If an employer does take your temperature before allowing you to return to work, the employer still must abide by ADA confidentiality requirements.

Can My Employer Require Me to Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Such as Gloves or Face Masks, When I Return to Work? 

Yes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has clarified its guidelines on PPE. In light of the pandemic, employers are required to provide appropriate PPE to employees in high-risk categories such as healthcare workers. Employers in industries that are not classified as high-risk can still require their employees to use PPE, but they must comply with CDC and OSHA standards, which involve training employees in proper use of PPE.

Where an employee with a disability needs a related reasonable accommodation under the ADA (e.g., non-latex gloves, modified face masks for interpreters or others who communicate with an employee who uses lip reading, or gowns designed for individuals who use wheelchairs), or a religious accommodation under Title VII (such as modified equipment due to religious garb), the employer should discuss the request and provide the modification or an alternative if feasible and not an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business under the ADA or Title VII.

Contact a Massachusetts Employment Lawyer

If you think your employer has violated your rights after you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should speak with a Massachusetts employment law attorney.  Contact Rodman Employment Law to learn more.

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