Ask an Employment Lawyer: Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19

During this unprecedented time, it’s normal to feel confused and uninformed when it comes to understanding your rights as an employee. The pandemic is raising questions regarding the state and federal protection of workers affected by this crisis. Employment Lawyer and Gokal Law Partner Jibit Cinar has provided answers to some frequently asked questions below to help keep you informed. 

Frequently Asked Questions: 

Can my employer force me to go to work?

This question depends on the circumstances at your place of work. If there is a direct threat of COVID-19 contamination, it may be unlawful of your employer to force you to return to work. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an employee can refuse to work in the event of immediate or imminent danger. If there is no evidence of exposure or not all employees were impacted, your employer may require you to return to work. If you are unsure, speak with an expert who can discuss your concerns with you. Employees should also understand that they may not be eligible to receive emergency paid sick leave or emergency FMLA leave if they choose not to work despite their ability to. Please refer to our prior blog post “What the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Means for Employeesto see if you’d qualify.


Is there anything I can do if I feel my working conditions are unsafe? 

If you believe the working conditions provided by your employer are unsafe or unhealthful, you may file a confidential complaint with OSHA and ask for an inspection. If possible, bring the conditions to your employer’s attention. It is illegal for your employer to fire, demote, transfer or otherwise retaliate against a worker for enforcing their rights under the law. If you believe you have been retaliated against in any way, you can file a whistleblower complaint within 30 days of the alleged retaliation. 


I am too scared to go into work. Can I just ask my employer for the emergency paid sick leave under the newly passed FFCRA?

No. An employee is not eligible for emergency paid sick leave under the FFCRA because they are too scared to go into work, and if there is available work for them. An employee is entitled to emergency paid sick leave only for one of the qualifying conditions under the FFCRA. This is because the purpose behind the FFCRA is to prevent the spread of the virus and for those who are actually sick with COVID-19 to isolate themselves during recovery without having to worry about not getting paid.


Can my employer take my temperature before work? 

It is usually illegal for an employer to measure your body temperature, but during this time of crisis, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance allowing employers to take employees’ temperatures as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19. You can learn more about the EEOC’s guidance by visiting their website here. Additionally, and more recently, the CDC has issued guidelines on measures employers can take when critical infrastructure sector employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 are ready to come back to work. These guidelines can be found here.

What should I do if I’m feeling ill but need the money? 

If you show up to work sick and possibly infected, your employer should and will most likely send you home. You may put others at risk for also contracting coronavirus by working while ill. Please remember that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) provides for up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave for employees who become sick with COVID-19. There is no reason for an employee to continue working and exposing others to the virus because they are entitled to pay from their employer.


What should I do if I was laid off and did not receive my last paycheck?

California Law requires that your final paycheck for all remaining hours worked be handed over immediately upon termination. If an employer refuses to pay you for the wages you are owed, you may be entitled to extra compensation. The employer may face a penalty and owe you up to 30 days of pay on top of the final paycheck amount. If your final paycheck was late, written for the improper amount, or you never provided, contact an attorney to discuss your options. 


It is more important than ever to stay informed and know your rights as you continue to navigate through this tough period. If you believe your rights are being infringed upon by your employer or if you still have unanswered questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us by giving us a call at 949-753-9100.

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