Jun 2020

How to Be Safe at Work as MA Loosens COVID-19 Restrictions

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorney

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has issued a set of general rules that requires all employers to follow social distancing protocols for both employees and customers. Under the rules, all employees also must wear masks or face coverings. The governor, however, did not mandate that employers supply the equipment. Some workers, depending on the nature of their jobs, may have to wear gloves or other protective gear.

Businesses must also offer areas where employees can wash their hands, and must regularly disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Guidance specific to industries will be released as the reopening of the economy continues.

Workers exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms have the option of staying home without fear of losing their jobs. Employers must address each individual situation and put plans in place for the safe return of workers. In general, ailing workers are entitled to up to two weeks of paid sick leave.

What If You Don’t Feel Protected from COVID-19 at Work?

You may suffer from underlying conditions – asthma, serious heart conditions, diabetes, being over age 65 and others – that put you at greater risk if you are exposed to the virus. You can ask your employer to make accommodations for you, such as a private office, different work shifts, or continuing to work from home.

If your employer is not following pandemic safety protocols, you and your coworkers can file a complaint with your local board of health, the state attorney general’s office, or the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Be sure to document your case. Laws also protect you from retaliation by your employer if you report their behavior.

Depending on the circumstances, however, an employer can fire you if you refuse to return to work. If you simply do not feel safe and choose to quit your job for “just cause,” you may qualify for unemployment benefits. The process is complicated and could require you to testify at a hearing.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself from COVID-19 at Work?

The biggest obstacle to people returning to work is the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Conditions and safety advisories seem to change almost daily. As a result, your right to work in a safe environment may clash with your employer’s desire to return to business as soon as possible. New regulations are likely, with worker advocates and business lobbyists likely to square off in the legislature and in the courts. In the meantime, your livelihood could be in legal limbo.

The workers’ compensation lawyers at The Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl know how to fight for the rights of clients in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. We have a proven track record of aggressively defending worker rights against employers and insurance companies. We can guide you through the legal process toward fair compensation. Contact us at our offices in Fall River and Foxborough, Mass., or Providence, R.I., for a free case consultation today.

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