The World Health Organization is advising people to stay indoors and maintain social distancing. Most organizations are encouraging their employees to work from home. However, a few businesses have been resuming operations and asking their employees to come back to work. But it might leave you wondering if your boss can ask you to come to work while the pandemic is still claiming lives. So, if your company wants you to report to work, here are a few things you should know.
Can Your Boss Ask You to Come to Work During the Pandemic?
While it might be ethically wrong, there’s no clear mention of it in the law. So, your boss can ask you to come to work, provided it falls under the government’s guidelines. So, here are a few pointers that can help you decide if you should go to work or not.
Only businesses that come under the category of essential services can operate at the time of this pandemic. Falling under this category are organizations healthcare providers, pharmacies, research institutes working on finding a vaccine for the virus, etc. Other essential services that are crucial for the function of normal life are also under operation. So, your organization cannot ask you to come to work unless it falls under one of these above categories.
The option to work from home:
Only if your job requires your physical presence your boss can ask you to come into work. For instance, grocery, healthcare, security services, bank tellers, etc., are services where the physical presence of the employee is crucial. In such cases working from home is not an option, hence, you might be working from your office.
However, unlike the usual operations, essential services are also having staggered workforce, meaning they work with half the workforce now. So, your workplace will have to adhere to social distancing norms even if the business is open to the public.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) mandates organizations to follow the general duty clause. It means organizations need to provide a workspace that is free of hazards at all times. In other words, it means providing a workplace that does not pose a threat to the well-being of the employee.
COVID-19 does pose a threat to the employee’s life and also puts his/her family at risk. So it is the responsibility of your employer to take measures to make sure your workplace is safe. However, you are legally entitled to refuse to come to work if the standard safety regulations, social distancing norms, and sanitization are not in place. You could request an OHSA inspection at your workplace, to make sure the safety protocol is in place.
Working in a hotspot:
The local governments are marking various zones as hotspots basing on the number of cases or potential COVID-19 cases in a region. If you live in one such zone or your workplace is in a containment zone or hotspot, it is advisable for you not to venture out. In such a case, your organization cannot ask you to come to work.
If your workplace had a person test positive for COVID-19, it is important for your organization to make the information known to the employees. While they cannot share the patient’s details without their consent, it is important to share the fact that there was a person was tested positive. This will help everyone in the workplace to go into self-isolation and prevent the infection from spreading further.
While the government is taking all measures to curb workplace violations, there is only so much they could do, given the shortage of staff. According to a recent report, the federal government has less than ten occupational safety personnel for every million workers. So, it is upon organizations to ensure they prioritize the safety of their employees and exercise caution while opening up the business.
However, just because your employer cannot force you to come to work, it doesn’t mean they can take away your vacation privilege. That is because the federal law doesn’t cover vacation leaves as a right and it is at your employer’s discrimination. So, talk to your boss, see if you can work from home, and make sure you practice the government’s workplace guidance for the pandemic period.