Going Back to Work: Your Complete Coronavirus Guide

Posted on: 29 April 2020

By: Daniela Bucay

Despite some states’ calls to reopen businesses and the virtual lockdown that has dramatically changed lives across the globe in mere weeks, the novel coronavirus continues to batter a large portion of the U.S. Just this week, we reached one million confirmed cases, making the U.S. the country with the highest number of confirmed cases in the world.

The White House and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released guidelines for how to reopen the country in a safe way. It is important to remember, however, that they are just guidelines and cannot be enforced. The federal government has pretty much left it up to the states to decide when and how to recover. The New York Times released a state-by-state map to help people navigate the situation in each state, but we at Fig wanted to talk about the states we serve as well as offer some quick guidance on how to return to work safely amid the ongoing pandemic.

    Fast Fig facts:
  1. Statewide stay-at-home orders in Texas and Florida will expire this week (April 30), and their governors want to start opening up some businesses again.
  2. Illinois businesses remain shut down as Chicago emerges as a hotspot of infections and death.
  3. Missouri’s state-wide order expires May 3, but the largest cities have stay-at-home orders that will last longer.
  4. Ohio has a cautious reopening plan that will start a bit later than Texas and Florida’s.
  5. Utah, which never had a statewide order, will also start to loosen some restrictions in the coming weeks.
  6. As employers reoen and employees start to return, they should follow CDC guidelines for workplace safety and be aware of the resources available to them.

If your workplace is reopening and/or you’re considering going back to work in the coming weeks, but are nervous about what you can expect at work, we’ve done some research for you, with help from the Wall Street Journal, and have put together a list of tips for getting back to work safely.

Workplace Safety

Many people are worried about returning to work when the situation still feels vague. Unfortunately, being scared to return to your physical workplace after working from home does not mean that you can choose not to do so without consequence, but if you meet one of the following criteria, you may have more power.

You Have a Mental Health Disability that the Pandemic is Intensifying

If you have a diagnosed mental illness, such as anxiety, panic disorders, or anything else that allows reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), then continuing to work from home during the pandemic is a reasonable accommodation and you should ask for it.

You Have an Underlying Health Condition

The White House guidelines specifically mention that vulnerable people should not return to work until the last phase of the reopening, but as we mentioned earlier, these are merely guidelines. Vulnerable people are the elderly, the immunocompromised (for example, someone undergoing chemotherapy), and those who have high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, and obesity. If you’re pregnant, you unfortunately do not meet the White House’s definition of “vulnerable," but your state may have laws to protect you, so please find out from your local state’s health agencies!

Of course, businesses should follow CDC guidelines on sanitation, social distancing, and other preventive measures to ensure that reopening businesses now does not cause a spike in coronaviruses cases and ultimately prolong the shutdown. However, many are still wondering what to do about the risk of exposure.

Speak Up About Unsafe Conditions

If you believe your employer is not following adequate safety precautions to ensure a coronavirus-free workplace, first, talk to them. They cannot legally fire you for questioning if their measures were sufficient, as you are protected by the law when you raise concerns about safety. If nothing changes or you experience retaliation from your employer for speaking out, file a complaint or report the retaliation with OSHA.

Work as a Team

Just because you can’t get within 6 feet of someone not in your isolation pod doesn’t mean can’t work together. If you believe that your employer is not taking the necessary steps to protect you, coordinate with coworkers to walk out together. Collective action is protected by the National Labor Relations Act, however, this should really be a last resort.

The Journey is Important

Many employees will risk exposure during their commute to work, not just while being at work, due to using public transportation. If you’re very concerned about your safety because of transit, be sure to ask your employer if they can beef up any transportation benefits so you can get there in a safer manner. Also, wear a mask! Wash your hands before getting to work and after leaving! Follow the health guidelines that experts have been advocating for.

Personal Health is Public Health

Although normally employers can’t ask about your health, during a pandemic, they are perfectly entitled to carry out temperature screenings, expect you to report any coronavirus symptoms, and send you home if you start to show symptoms. They may even be able to require you to get a COVID vaccine if one is developed.

Money Matters

Another huge concern about returning to work is not just health and safety—money matters, too! Even so, please try not to put yourself at unnecessary risk if you can avoid it. If you have friends who can continue to work from home but are considering going back to their workplaces, please urge them not to. The fewer people are out and about, the better the situation will be for those of us who have no choice but to return to our workplaces.

Volunteering to Leave Furlough

The restaurant, hospitality, and retail industries laid off many workers early in the pandemic as revenues disappeared. Now, some might be looking for volunteers to come back. Volunteer if you are ready, but please, be careful! If your employer rejects your offer, and you think it’s because they think you’re too old/vulnerable, that could be discrimination.

Going Back Without Childcare

This will probably be the toughest question employees face, since a lot of schools are closed indefinitely. If your employer is willing to offer this, and you can do it, take an unpaid leave of absence. Also, you may be able to apply for unemployment benefits if you have lost income because you have to take care of your children.

Worker’s Comp

If you get COVID while on the job, you’re going to be in a tough spot getting worker’s comp to cover it because it’s hard to prove where and when you got sick. Some states, like Illinois, however, have some rules that apply to essential workers during the pandemic. Check with your states!

We know this post will raise as many questions as it answers, but we want to make sure that you’re equipped with the resources to find the answers, even if we cannot provide them ourselves. The decision to return to work will be intensely personal, and you should make the decision that is right for you and your family based on the best available information as well as your family’s situation.

    Here are some resources we want to share with you:
  • Zenefits (an HR platform) has a checklist for returning to work.
  • Ohio’s Department of Health released this list of responsible protocols for reopening businesses.
  • Florida’s Health website has a central dashboard that is likely to update after Governor DeSantis announces what reopening may look like on April 29.
  • Missouri’s Labor Department released a Q&A for businesses and workers.
  • The Texas Workforce Commission has a robust information page for employers, employees, and more.
  • Texas RioGrande Legal Aid has a hotline and an online resource guide that explains what to do if you need to take time off.
  • If you need to file an OSHA complaint or just want to read more about it, you can do so here.
  • Last but not least, if you need to make a face mask (and we really recommend you wear one outside the home), here’s a really easy no-sew pattern.

We’d love to hear your experiences returning to work in any state, whether or not we mentioned it, and what steps you find helpful to keep you safe and sane. We know the decision won’t be easy, but we’re right here with you. As always, Fig is available at service@figloans.com, Facebook, Instagram,and Twitter.

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