The U.S. has had a dire need for personal protection equipment for months now as the pandemic rages on across the country. States now find themselves competing for limited access to face masks, gloves, hazmat suits, and sanitary wipes. Some facilities are buying gear from overseas, while others are forcing staff members to go without these basic protections.
As a nurse or care provider, you may be asked to work without PPE, endangering your health and the lives of your patients. Learn about your rights as an employee and how you can take legal action if your employer breaks the law.
The Law is on Your Side
You shouldn’t be asked to work without PPE, especially if you are older or have underlying health conditions. You also shouldn’t continue working if you have the virus, nor should you be punished for contracting the virus on the job.
Nurses across the country are suing some of the largest health systems and state health departments for damages. If a nurse believes they contracted the virus at work and their employer did not do enough to protect them while on the job, they may be able to sue for various reasons, such as not having enough PPE, being asked to work near or around infected individuals without proper protections, or being forced to come into work despite being sick.
According to the law, employers are required to make accommodations for their workers to keep them safe on the job. This includes providing adequate PPE to all staff members and giving workers time off if they are older or have a compromised immune system.
Can You Get Fired for Being Infected?
As a nurse or doctor serving on the front lines, you are more likely to contract the coronavirus than the rest of the country. You shouldn’t be working or caring for patients if you have the virus, but what happens if you get fired for getting sick, even if you contracted the virus on the job?
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is designed to prevent employers from unlawfully discriminating against Americans with disabilities, including those with the coronavirus. It protects workers from getting fired or being laid off due to infection or if they have preexisting conditions that may make them more susceptible to COVID-19.
FAQs About the ADA
- What happens if you can’t come into work due to the pandemic?
If you need to take time off of work to watch over your children while they are not in school, take care of a family member, or because you are considered high-risk for contracting the virus, you should be able to stay home without getting fired. The employer is allowed to ask why you are not coming in for work, in which case you will have a valid reason for staying home.
- Are you required to undergo a medical examination before returning to work?
The employer may require all returning employees to undergo a medical examination to limit the spread of the virus, but only if these standards apply to all workers in the same position. Employers are not allowed to single out individual employees for possible illness. All medical information should be treated as a confidential medical record.
Employers may measure their employees’ body temperatures using a thermometer during the pandemic to prevent the spread of infection.
- Can your boss rescind a job offer if you test positive for the virus?
If you just got a new job and tested positive for the virus, the employer cannot rescind the job offer, as this would be considered discrimination under the ADA. The only way you can be let go is if the employer proves that you would be a “direct threat” to the rest of the team. The employer should first decide whether your condition will affect your ability to do the job, while looking for a way to minimize the potential risk, such as having you work from home.
If you can still do your job without posing a direct threat to business personnel, you cannot be fired for having the virus. However, if the employer can prove that you can no longer perform the essential duties of the position due to your condition, you may be let go.
- Can you be sent home for exhibiting coronavirus symptoms?
Yes, the CDC says that employees with flu-like symptoms should stay home. If your employer sends you home for sniffling, coughing, or having a high fever, they would be protected under the ADA if they can prove you would be a direct threat to the rest of the team.
- Can your employer ask questions about your health as it relates to COVID-19?
Yes, your boss may ask you if you have had coronavirus-related symptoms. This will help them figure out if other team members may be infected.
- Do you have to tell your employer if you have a condition that makes you more susceptible to COVID-19?
No, if you have asthma, diabetes, or a compromised immune system, you don’t have to disclose your condition to your employer, even if it may affect your health on the job. If you willingly decide to volunteer this information, the employer must keep it confidential. The employer may ask you whether the condition affects your ability to do your job and if you will need any additional assistance on the job, such as the ability to work from home.
- Are you required to wear PPE on the job?
Yes, your employer may force you and your co-workers to wear PPE on the job, as well as wash your hands regularly to comply with the latest CDC guidelines.
Your employer must provide PPE on the job to limit your potential exposure to the coronavirus.
If you believe your employer has wrongfully discriminated against you for getting the virus or having a compromised immune system, you may be able to file a claim under the ADA. You may also be able to sue for being asked to work without PPE, especially if you are at a higher risk for contracting the virus.
The Bongiorno Law Firm in New York is representing nurses in NY that may have been infected with the virus. At Scrubs Mag, we’d like to thank our friends at the Bongiorno Law Firm for their continued support of frontline workers through their Heroes for Heroes campaign and unwavering efforts to enforce a safe working environment.
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