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What employees need to know about returning to work

A pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks near the building that houses the Fannie Mae headquarters in Washington, D.C., on May 8, 2020. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

(CNN) — At some point, we will start returning to the office.

Some people are looking forward to going back after stay-at-home orders are lifted. Others might be dreading it because they’re afraid of getting sick at work, no longer have childcare or fear commuting on crowded public transportation.

Here’s what employees need to know about their rights when it comes to returning the office.

What if I am not comfortable going back to work?

It can be nerve racking to head back into the office while a global pandemic is still looming over everyone’s head.

But fearing that you might contract Covid-19 is not a legal reason to refuse to come to work if the company is lawfully permitted to open, according to Russ Adler, a labor and employment attorney in New York City.

However, if a worker is concerned about an existing health condition or disability like having a compromised immune system, Adler said it might fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act or state or local disability laws, which may require employers to discuss potential accommodations.

Workers who feel unsafe because of a specific concern at work, such as an employer not adequately cleaning a desk of a worker who tested positive for Covid-19, and make a complaint could be protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, according to Charles Jellinek, partner and co-leader, employment and labor, at law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.

OSHA requires employers to provide a work environment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

What if I no longer have child care?

With schools and daycare centers shut down, many working parents have been pulling triple duty as a full-time parent, teacher and worker. And if they get called back to work before schools or daycares reopen, they could be stuck.

Some working parents can get paid leave under the the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that Congress passed in March. The law requires qualified employers provide eligible employees with paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave to care for a child whose school or childcare provider is no longer available for Covid-19 related reasons.

Currently, the expanded benefits go through through December 31, 2020.

To be eligible, the children have tobeminors and employees have to work at a company with less than 500 employees.

Can my employer require me to wear a face mask or other PPE?

Generally, employees can be required to wear a mask while at work, according to Vanessa Matsis-McCready, assistant general counsel and director of human resources for Engage PEO.

She added that if it is required, the employer should provide the mask.

Employees who do not adhere to a company’s rule regarding protective gear can be sent home, according to Sharon Perley Masling, a partner at Morgan Lewis.

However, if a worker has a disability or health condition that makes it difficult to wear PPE, employers are required by the ADA to explore reasonable accommodations that would allow them to perform their jobs, she added.

What if I don’t want to comply with temperature checks?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said that employers can check employees’ body temperature, but the results are subject to confidentiality requirements.

In addition, temperature checks should be conducted in a safe and non-discriminatory manner, said Jellinek.

But be aware:”An employee who refuses to be tested can be denied entry to the employer’s premises, and that refusal and resulting absence from work can serve as a basis for employee discipline,” he said.

Does an employer have to notify staff if an employee is diagnosed with Covid-19?

An employer is not required to alert staff if someone has tested positive, according to Adler, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

“They should inform employees that someone did test positive,” he said. “But they cannot reveal the identity without consent.”

Employers should also contact trace to alert potentially-exposed colleagues and send those employees home and implement safety protocols, said Matsis-McCready.

Can my employer send me home if she thinks I am sick?

Yes. According to the EEOC, an employer can send home an employee with Covid-19 or one who is showing symptoms associated with it.

If you are worried about a coworker who is displaying signs of the virus, Matsis-McCready advises you share the concern confidentially with someone in the human resources department.

Can an employer require a doctors note to return to the office?

Employers can require a doctor’s note for employees to return to the office, said Chai Feldblum, a partner at Morgan Lewis and former EEOC commissioner.

However, given that many health care providers are overwhelmed, employers might instead rely on temperature checks and inquire about symptoms, she said.

Coronavirus links

Indiana coronavirus timeline

With updated information from the Indiana Deaprtment of Health on May 25, this timeline reflects updated tallies of deaths and positive tests prior to that date.

  • March 6: Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) confirms the first case in Indiana. Officials say the Marion County resident had recently traveled to Boston to attend a BioGen conference as a contractor.
  • March 8: ISDH confirms a second case. An adult in Hendricks County who had also traveled to the BioGen conference was placed in isolation. Noblesville Schools say a parent and that parent’s children will be self-quarantining after attending an out-of-state event where someone else tested positive.
  • March 9: Avon Community School Corp. says a student on March 8 tested positive.
  • March 10: ISDH launches an online tracker. Ball State University basketball fans learn the Mid-American Conference tourney will have no fans in the stands. Three businesses operating nursing homes in Indiana announce they will no longer allow visitors.
  • March 11: The Indianapolis-based NCAA announces the Final Four basketball tournaments will be conducted with essential staff and limited family attendance. The Big Ten announces all sports events, including the men’s basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, will have no fans starting March 12. Ball State University suspends in-person classes the rest of the spring semester. NBA suspends all games, including the Indiana Pacers, until further notice. Butler University and the University of Indianapolis extend spring break, after which they will have virtual classes.
  • March 12: Gov. Eric Holcomb announces new protections that led to extended public school closings and the cancellation of large events across the state. The NCAA cancels its basketball tournaments. The Big Ten suspends all sporting events through the winter and spring seasons. The league including the Indy Fuel hockey team suspends its season. Indy Eleven says it will reschedule four matches. Indianapolis’ annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is canceled. 
  • March 13: Indiana’s total of positive cases rises to 15. The Indiana High School Athletic Association postpones the boys basketball tournament. Wayzata Home Products, a Connersville cabinet maker, shuts down and lays off its entire workforce due to market uncertainty. Gov. Holcomb announces actions including the elimination of Medicaid co-pays for COVID-19 testing and the lifting of limits on the number of work hours per day for drivers of commercial vehicles. Franklin College says it will begin online classes March 18 and empty residence halls of students in two days. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis closes indefinitely. The Indianapolis Public Library joins other libraries across Indiana and closes all facilities indefinitely.
  • March 14: The Indiana Gaming Commission says all licensed gaming and racing operations will close in two days for an indefinite period.
  • March 15: Indiana had its first death. St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis announces it will suspend all elective, non-urgent surgeries.
  • March 16: Indiana had its second death. Gov. Holcomb announced the first Hoosier death. He closes bars, restaurants and nightclubs to in-person patrons, but maintains carryout and delivery services.
  • March 17: Indiana had its third and fourth deaths. ISDH announces Indiana’s second death. Indiana’s Catholic bishops cancel masses indefinitely. Gov. Holcomb activates the National Guard. Purdue, Butler and Indiana State universities cancel May commencement ceremonies.
  • March 18: Indiana had its fifth death. Eli Lilly and Co. says it will use its labs to speed up testing in Indiana. The 500 Festival announces suspends all events. Simon Property Group closes all malls and retail properties.
  • March 19: Gov. Holcomb extends Indiana’s state of emergency into May. Holcomb says he’ll close all K-12 public and nonpublic schools. Standardized testing was canceled. The state’s income-tax and corporate-tax payment deadline was extended to July 15. Holcomb says the state will waive job search requirements for people applying for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. The IHSAA Boys Basketball State Tournament was canceled. The Marion County Emergency Operations Center upgrades to Level 1 status.
  • March 20: Indiana’s death toll rose to 9. ISDH announces Indiana’s third death. Gov. Holcomb moves the state’s primary election to June 2. Indiana University says it is postponing May commencement ceremonies on all campuses.
  • March 21: Indiana’s death toll rises to 14. ISDH announces Indiana’s fourth death. Indiana National Guard says it and the Department of Transportation are distributing medical supplies to hospitals.
  • March 22: Indiana’s death toll rises to 19. ISDH announces seven deaths.
  • March 23: Indiana’s death toll rises to 24. Holcomb orders Hoosiers deemed nonessential to “stay at home” from March 24-April 7. Eli Lilly & Co. begins drive-thru testing for the coronavirus for health care workers with a doctor’s order. Ball State University cancels the May commencement.
  • March 24: Indiana’s death toll rises to 29. Fred Payne of Indiana Workforce Development says any Hoosiers out of work, including temporary layoffs, are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.
  • March 25: Indiana’s death toll rises to 35. Indianapolis Motor Speedway announces the Indianapolis 500 is moved to Aug. 23. IndyGo suspends fares and changes its ride schedules.
  • March 26: Indiana’s death toll rises to 44.
  • March 27: Indiana’s death toll rises to 47.
  • March 28: Indiana’s death toll rises to 58.
  • March 29: Indiana’s death toll rises to 76. President Donald Trump announces in a press conference that the national social distancing recommendation will be extended by 30 days.
  • March 30: Indiana’s death toll rises to 91. Indiana health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box predicts the arrival of the surge in cases and deaths could come in mid-April to late April, but could be as late as mid-May, “but we don’t know.”
  • March 31: Indiana’s death toll rises above 100, to 113. Gov. Holcomb extends the limits of bars and restaurants to offer only “to go” and “carryout” through April 6. Health commissioner Box, asked about when Indiana will be in a surge of COVID-19 cases, says she thinks the surge is starting.
  • April 1: Officials extend Marion County’s “stay at home” order through May 1. Marion County health officials say they will start COVID-19 testing services for front-line employees. Gov. Holcomb announces the #InThisTogether campaign.
  • April 2: The state announces K-12 schools will be closed for the rest of the school year. The Indiana High School Athletic Association cancels spring sports seasons.
  • April 3: Gov. Holcomb extends the “stay at home” order through April 20. The state receives a federal Major Disaster Declaration for all 92 counties. The Indiana National Guard says it, the Army Corps of Engineers and state health officials will begin to assess sites for alternate health care facilities.
  • April 4: Indiana’s death toll rises above 200.
  • April 6: The state reports a Madison County nursing home has had 11 deaths. Gov. Holcomb extends the “stay at home” order through April 20. He also limits additional businesses to carry-out only.
  • April 7: Indiana’s death toll rises above 300. Indiana health commissioner Box says four long-term care facilities have 22 deaths that appear to be related to COVID-19.
  • April 10: ISDH said 24 residents of a long-term care facility in Madison County have died from COVID-related illness.
  • April 11: Indiana’s death toll rises above 400.
  • April 14: Indiana’s death toll rises above 500.
  • April 16: Tests ID more than 10,000 Hoosiers with coronavirus. The governor says he expects Indiana to experience a reopening in early May.
  • April 17: Indiana’s death toll rises above 600. The governor says that he will extend the “stay at home” order through May 1.
  • April 20: Indiana’s death toll rises above 700. Gov. Holcomb extends the “stay at home” order to May 1. The governor also says, if the medical supply chain is in good shape, other elective medical procedures can resume April 27.
  • April 22: Indiana’s death toll rises above 800. The Tyson facility in Logansport voluntarily closes so 2,200 employees can be tested for COVID-19.
  • April 24: Indiana’s death toll rises above 900. The Indianapolis City-County Council approves $25 million to help small businesses. Fishers City Council creates a city health department with a plan to test every resident.
  • April 25: ISDH says it will launch an antibody testing study for Hoosiers; thousands of residents were randomly selected to participate in the study.
  • April 27: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,000.
  • April 28: Indiana officials say they will open COVID-19 testing to more Hoosiers, with expanded criteria and new testing services at 20 sites around the state.
  • April 29: The state says it will spent $43 million on contact tracing.
  • April 30: Indianapolis extends its stay-at-home order through May 15.
  • May 1: Gov. Holcomb announces a phased reopening plan for the state of Indiana. He also extends the stay-at-home order to May 4.
  • May 3: Tests ID more than 20,000 Hoosiers with coronavirus.
  • May 4: Indiana enters Stage 2 of its Back on Track plan, which excludes Cass County until May 18, and Lake and Marion counties until May 11.
  • May 6:The state begins testing for all Hoosiers at 20 sites, with plans to expand the number of sites to 50 in a week. Ivy Tech Community College says it will continue virtual classes when summer courses begin in June. 
  • May 8: Cris Johnston, director of the Office of Budget and Management, says the state missed out on nearly $1 billion in anticipated April revenues; all state agencies will be given budget-cutting goals. Purdue University OKs plans to reopen for the fall semester with social distancing and other safety measures.
  • May 11: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,500.
  • May 13: The first phase of a state-sponsored study of the coronavirus estimated about 186,000 Hoosiers had COVID-19 or the antibodies for the novel virus by May 1. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced plans for limited reopenings of worship services, retail establishments, libraries and restaurants.
  • May 14: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,600.
  • May 17: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,700. Marion County’s death toll rises above 500.
  • May 18: Indiana reports its first case of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in a child. The Farbest Foods turkey-processing plant in Huntingburg is closed for three days; 91 people have tested positive there.
  • May 21: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,800.
  • May 22: Indiana advances to Stage 3 of the Back on Track reopening plan. Indianapolis closes portions of five streets to allow restaurants to reopen with outdoor dining only.
  • May 27: The U.S. death toll rises above 100,000. Indiana University says the fall semester will have in-person and online courses, plus an adjusted calendar through May 2021. Ball State University says the fall semester will be 13 straight weeks of in-person classes with no day off on Labor Day and no fall break.
  • May 28: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,900.
  • May 29: Places of worship in Marion County can begin holding indoor services at 50% capacity with proper social distancing.
  • June 1: Marion County restaurants can begin serving customers indoors and outdoors with 50% capacity. Marion County salons, tattoo parlors can reopen by appointment only. Marion County gyms, fitness centers and pools can open with 50% capacity and no contact sports.

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