Can New York Employers Force an Employee to Either Remain at Home or Leave Their Workplace Over COVID-19 Concerns?

As New York moves into Phase 3 of its reopening, many individuals who have been working remotely are beginning to return to their places of employment in an effort to get the economy back on its feet. However, the return of employees to work has caused anxiety both for workers potentially facing COVID-19 exposure and for employers trying to understand what they are permitted to do in light of protecting themselves from liability and protecting other employees during the pandemic. One concern for employers centers around whether they are legally permitted to either require an employee to remain at home and away from their place or employment or else leave the workplace due to COVID-19 concerns. 

COVID-19 Exposure and Symptoms

The CDC guidelines currently recommend any employee displaying COVID-19 symptoms should not remain at work, so an employer may properly send a worker home if they begin to show any characteristics of infection. 

Employers may also require an employee to remain at home if someone they have been in close contact with is either COVID-19 positive or displaying symptoms of the virus. In this case, it’s proper to require the employee to quarantine at home for the CDC recommended:

  • 14 days after their last contact with the sick person, or
  • 14 days after someone sick in their household meets CDC guidelines for ending their period of home quarantine.

Travel Concerns

Employers may also properly require an employee to refrain from coming to work if they’ve travelled somewhere that public health officials recommend a quarantine upon return for a specific period of time. Employers may also ask an employee if they have recently returned from any such location.

Immunocompromised and Other Susceptible Employees

However, employers are prohibited from requiring that one of their employees either change job duties or come to work if they have a condition, quality, or disability identified by the CDC as putting them at an elevated risk for serious or life-threatening illness if they contract COVID-19. There would need to be an assessment to see if a reasonable accommodation – such as telework – could be made to mitigate the elevated risk to the employee, as well as an analysis of any direct threat to see if the employee’s health is endangered by their presence in the workplace.

New York Employment Lawyer

In these unprecedented times, employers and employees alike are struggling to understand their rights, obligations, and how to safely begin returning to a new normal. The fact the pandemic is a case of first impressions makes keeping up with new legal developments, executive orders, and regulations burdensome and confusing, but to avoid costly mistakes on both sides it’s critical to stay current and understand the rules. To make sure you stay on the right side of developing issues related to work, 

contact the experienced employment lawyers at MOWK Law to have your questions answered. We’re here to explain how the law applies to your situation and look out for your best interests. Contact us today to learn more.