What should our employer be doing about coronavirus?

Right now workers are bearing the brunt of the impact of this public health emergency. Even if you don’t have a union, you can come together with your co-workers to demand that your employer protect workers and address urgent concerns related to coronavirus. Here are some ideas on what to demand of your employer:

Shut Down Non-essential Workplaces

For workplaces kept open by employers even though they should probably not be deemed “essential”:

  • Discuss with workers whether they feel safe coming to work. If workers want to advocate closing the business to protect each other from community spread, support their demands.
  • Workers should be paid while the workplace is shut, and health benefits should continue. In some cases, workers may want to take a voluntary layoff and collect unemployment. A clear plan to recall laid off workers should be put in place.

Hazard Pay

Workers who are interacting with the public and providing essential public services should demand hazard pay. This could take the form of a direct increase in wages or an additional hourly differential for the duration of the pandemic.

Right to Refuse Work

Workers who are members of high-risk populations for severe illness, including those over age 60, those who are immunocompromised, and those with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, or heart disease, should have the right to refuse work where they interact with other workers or the public. We can demand they be given a voluntary layoff, a paid leave of absence, or that they be assigned to other less risky assignments.

If An Employee Tests Positive

  • Employee health information should be kept confidential. However, if a worker tests positive for COVID-19, the employer should inform the workforce and make every effort to test other workers who shared the same shift and work space as the infected worker. Early identification will help prevent further spread of the disease.
  • Workers should not be required to use vacation or paid personal time for any COVID-19-related absences from work. Health insurance benefits should be protected during their absence.
  • Employers should provide paid medical leave for workers whose ability to work is impacted by COVID-19 in any way, and all requirements for doctors’ notes should be waived, as the CDC has recommended. 
  • Employers should suspend time and attendance policies, and no disciplinary action should be taken, or attendance “occurrences” recorded, for absences during the pandemic.
  • Employers should provide paid time off and flexible working hours to workers who need to care for children who are home due to school closures.
  • The employer should institute fair return to work policies for workers who have been ill but have recovered. According to the CDC, “The decision to stop home isolation should be made in consultation with your healthcare provider and state and local health departments. Local decisions depend on local circumstances.”

Workplace Sanitation

Employers should take measures to ensure a sanitary workplace, driven by workers’ concerns and science, including but not limited to providing personal protective equipment appropriate for the job assignment and making CDC-recommended cleaning chemicals be made available for all environmental services and spaces shared with the public.

  • It is the employer’s responsibility to provide necessary PPEs and cleaning chemicals.
  • The employer should ensure that all high touch surfaces and high traffic areas are regularly disinfected. All public facing areas should be disinfected every hour. 
  • The employer should adjust work processes to ensure that workers can be a safe distance from each other. 
  • Workers should be provided with extra breaks to wash their hands. The employer should provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol, disinfectants, and disposable towels for workers to clean their work surfaces.
  • Minimize worker contact with the general public.
  • Shift times can be changed to reduce the number of workers in the facility at one time
  • In areas with community spread of COVID-19, we should consider demanding employer-provided work uniforms and appropriate changing areas so that workers do not bring potentially contaminated garments into their personal vehicles or homes.

For workers laid off because the employer has stopped operating normally

Many workers in the service and retail industries have been laid off, fired or otherwise let go due to lack of sales or inability to operate during the pandemic. For these workers, employers should:

  • Pay workers while they are laid off, or help workers file for unemployment
  • Continue health insurance coverage during the layoff
  • Take advantage of the recent legislation allowing some businesses to get forgivable loans to put workers back on the payroll during this period
  • Have a clear plan to rehire workers and communicate that plan clearly to employees
  • Help employees take advantage of benefit programs that may be available