Returning To The Workplace Safely After COVID
Workplace safety is even more important as employees return to in-person work after the worst of the COVID pandemic. But with conflicting guidance and new variants, many workers are confused and uneasy about staying healthy and safe in the workplace.
We have broken down what we know so far about how New Yorkers can keep themselves and others healthy at work, and what responsibility employers and other parties have to maintain a safe workplace in 2021.
What Efforts Has New York Made To Combat COVID?
On March 7, 2020, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued Executive Order 202, which declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Since May 15, 2020, the state of New York has worked to develop and implement a phased economic reopening strategy based on science and data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This guidance has allowed employers to safely resume or increase employment and regular operations while protecting the health of all New Yorkers during the global pandemic.
However, inconsistencies between state law and federal law have left citizens confused about what safety measures they are required to observe. Workers have also been left with conflicting guidance on which safety precautions employers have to take in order to ensure that employees are able to work in the safest environment.
Many Vaccinated Workers Are Still Uneasy About Returning to In-Person Work
If you still have concerns about returning to work after COVID, you are not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, 48 percent of vaccinated people are uneasy about returning to in-person interactions.
There has been some confusion about whether masks are still warranted in the workplace. In May, the CDC announced that individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear masks.
However, recent guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that fully vaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks in light of the new Delta variant.
Not everyone is comfortable with ditching masks even if they are vaccinated, and that is okay. Employers are required to maintain a safe workplace, and you have options to ensure that you are comfortable returning to work in the post-COVID world.
With New Variants On the Rise, How Should Employers Keep Employees Safe?
The state of New York has provided guidance on the best practices to implement in order to keep workers safe when working in groups. This is particularly important for occupations like construction that require workers to be in close proximity with others for long periods of time.
Some of the efforts employers can take to keep employees safe on the job include:
- Placing signs that recommend wearing masks in areas win where social distancing is not possible, like elevators and bathrooms
- Limiting the use of shared workspaces or “hot desking” in favor of socially distanced work environments
- Increasing ventilation and filtration in closed spaces
- Providing masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) on the job
- Regularly sanitizing shared equipment, tools, bathrooms, and high-touch surfaces
- Providing paid time off to get vaccinated
Employees should make the extra effort as well. Since vaccines are not 100 percent effective, you may want to continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Some additional precautions employees can take to limit the spread of COVID include:
- Washing your hands often
- Sanitizing your work area with alcohol wipes or other disinfectants to kill bacteria
- Avoiding crowds when possible
- Getting fresh air often
Every employee has their own preferences when it comes to protecting against COVID after the vaccine. It is important that you set personal boundaries that make you comfortable.
If you see that your employer is not implementing safety procedures, speak up. You are entitled to protection on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who voice concerns about workplace safety conditions or health concerns.
Can Employers Mandate Vaccinations?
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission says that employers can mandate that employees get the vaccination before returning to work. Antidiscrimination laws do not prevent employers from requiring the vaccination, although they must provide exceptions for religious or medical reasons, including pregnancy.
The Biden administration is pushing more Americans to get vaccinated quickly, although it has stopped short of recommending that employers mandate the vaccination as a prerequisite of returning to work. Instead, the administration has encouraged employers to provide employees with paid time off to get the vaccine.
Vaccination mandates have caused controversy throughout the nation after the pandemic. Research suggests that although most employees are comfortable with vaccination mandates, some employers are reluctant to impose them.
In New York, the push to get vaccinated is still strong. The New York COVID vaccine tracker shows that nearly 62 percent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Nearly 56 percent of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID and in total. Federal, state, and local governments are continuing to push young people to get the vaccine.
Although six states have banned vaccination mandates, New York is not one of them, and your employer can make the vaccination mandatory as a condition of your employment.
What Are My Rights If I Get COVID At Work?
In response to COVID, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo guaranteed job protection and sick leave for employees. In the event that you are subjected to a mandatory or precautionary quarantine issued by a government entity, you are entitled to job protection and financial compensation. It is important that you become familiar with your place of employment’s protocols regarding COVID.
Some employers in New York are required to provide at least five days of paid sick leave to employees who need to take leave because they are under a quarantine order. The amount of paid sick leave the employer is required to provide depends on the number of employees the company has as well as its net annual income.
Quarantine leave is retroactive, and your employer cannot make you use existing sick leave or other leave accruals. If your employer fails to provide the paid sick leave required by New York law, you should file a complaint with the New York State Department of Labor.
You may file a COVID-related complaint against your employer for any of the following reasons:
- The employer is not taking proper safety and health precautions to protect the health of employees
- You have particular concerns about COVID because you or a family member are part of a vulnerable population, including having underlying health conditions or being over the age of 70
- The employer is refusing to pay you wages owed for hours you worked, earned sick pay or paid time off, or time you took off to get vaccinated
- The employer is harassing, threatening, or has fired you for reasons related to COVID-19
- You qualify for COVID-19 paid sick leave and your employer is refusing to pay it or is forcing you to use your own personal time off
- Your employer is forcing you to work when you are sick
Are You Injured or Sick Due to Your Working Conditions? Shulman & Hill Can Fight For You
If you have become injured or sick due to your working conditions, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Some potential benefits include compensation for medical bills and lost wages. Although workers cannot sue their employers, most are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance in the event that one of their employees is injured.
Shulman & Hill will fight for you. We pride ourselves in being one of the top workers’ compensation and personal injury firms in New York City. Our expert attorneys have years of experience fighting for workers’ rights.
A skilled attorney is essential to making the workers’ compensation claim process as quick and efficient as possible. The legal system is complex, and we understand that an attorney may be the last thing on your mind after an injury. However, protecting your rights as soon as possible is important. At Shulman & Hill, we have helped thousands of New Yorkers get millions of dollars in compensation. Our track record of success speaks to our uncompromising advocacy for the rights of our clients and their families.
Contact us for a free legal consultation today.