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Coronavirus: Can I be fired if I stay home sick?

The law protects employees against 'imminent dangers' but most offices in the United States do not fall into this extreme where employees can refuse to work.

A server at The Original Ninfa's wears gloves and a mask while bringing takeout orders to the kitchen amid the novel coronavirus pandemic on May 1, 2020 in Houston, Texas. - Texas on Friday became the largest US state to begin easing coronavirus lock

The world as we know it is changing and more companies are going remote with their inability to meet in groups such as offices and meeting rooms. People who can work from home have been allowed to do so at an increasing rate but there are jobs which people can not do remotely.

If you are worried about getting the virus, can you stay home with the fear of being fired? point out that employers can hire, fire or discipline employees at will. They say that: "Most employers' handbooks contain clear and prominent disclaimers that say something like, 'This handbook is not a contract' or 'You are an employee at will.' Further, these handbooks usually include language that warns employees that the employer can change its policies at any time."

Employee protection against imminent danger

There is, however, laws that protect employees from "imminent dangers" as written in the United States Department of Labor's Section 13(a). It protects employees against "... any conditions or practices in any place of employment which are such that a danger exists which could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such danger can be eliminated through the enforcement procedures otherwise provided by this Act."

Fischer Phillips, a resource center for employers point out this law but they sat that "most work conditions in the United States, however, do not meet the elements required for an employee to refuse to work. Once again, this guidance is general, and employers must determine when this unusual state exists in your workplace before determining whether it is permissible for employees to refuse to work.

They do say, however, that if you were asked to travel to China, for example, that this would likely escalate the danger to imminent and you could then refuse. You can read their full FAQ here.

Forbes have published an article with lots of helpful information also and offer guidelines for working from home.


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