Employee Rights No Fees Unless We Win
Fired Because I was Required to Quarantine Due to COVID
Were you fired from your job because you were required to quarantine for exposure to COVID-19? Can your employer get away with doing that? The short answer: it is generally unlawful for your employer to fire you from your job because you were required to quarantine. To examine this matter in more detail, let us begin by going over the related terminology. Note that the factors are intricate and complex, so if you have been fired, you may need to Contact an experienced attorney who knows how to navigate these issues.Quarantine
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you “quarantine” (or self-quarantine) by staying home for 7 to 14 days as recommended by civil authorities if you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 (“close contact” generally means coming within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes in a 24-hour period), especially if you are not fully vaccinated. The purpose of the quarantine period is to allow exposed persons time to determine whether they will develop symptoms or test positive. This minimizes the likelihood that exposed persons will infect others with COVID-19 in the event that they later test positive. Note that while an employer cannot inquire into protected areas of a worker’s medical privacy, employers can inquire whether the worker has traveled to a country considered by the CDC to be a high or very high risk for COVID-19 exposure.Isolate
On the other hand, according to the CDC you “isolate” (or self-isolate) by staying home, avoiding visitors, and wearing a mask around others if you have contracted COVID-19, even if you are asymptomatic—meaning you have not had any symptoms.Wage Replacement
If you are unable to work because you are required quarantine or isolate, or because you are ill due to COVID-19, there are several benefits to which you may be entitled. These include:
- Disability Insurance, available through the California Employment Development Department
- Workers’ Compensation, if you contracted COVID-19 at work, available through the California Department of Industrial Relations
- California Paid Sick Leave
As you may know, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), California Government Code sections 12900 – 12996, prohibits discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace based on protected characteristics such as race, age, sex, and disability. Under FEHA, it is indeed unlawful for your employer to fire you for quarantining or isolating because of COVID-19. In addition, California Labor Code section 6409.6, subdivision (f), which became effective January 1, 2021, specifically prohibits workers from being retaliated against (that includes being fired) for disclosing they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or having been ordered to quarantine or isolate.Permitting a Worker to Quarantine Protects Both the Employer and the Worker
Say you alert your supervisor that you may have been exposed to COVID-19. Your employer should want you to leave the workplace immediately and quarantine. Your employer should encourage and insist that you do so. Promptly removing yourself from the workplace and quarantining is in the best interests of both you and your employer. If instead your employer insists that you remain at the workplace and continue working as opposed to quarantining, and it turns out that you have COVID-19, you may very well have transmitted the corona virus to your colleagues. So instead of losing one worker for a couple of weeks, your employer will lose several workers for a period and perhaps be severely short staffed. Of course, your employer should also want to ensure that employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 stay at home through the entirety of their mandated isolation period. Workers with COVID-19 type symptoms should also be encouraged to promptly leave the workplace and quarantine.Reducing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace
The spread of COVID-19 in the workplace is more likely to occur in poorly-ventilated enclosed spaces. Occupancy should be decreased in such spaces. This can be accomplished by staggering work schedules, including rest break and lunch schedules, if feasible. Running portable air filters can also help reduce the spread of COVID-19. The spread of COVID-19 is more likely to occur in workplaces where workers must physically exert themselves or raise their voices to carryout out their job duties. The spread of COVID-19 is also more likely to occur in the workplace if workers in close proximity to one another do not wear masks. In some cases, wearing face shields in addition to masks, or wearing double masks, is appropriate to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Employers should encourage employees not to come to work if they are sick or if they have been instructed to quarantine or isolate. Employers should educate workers about COVID-19 symptoms and what they should do if they experience those symptoms. People considered to be at a high risk of developing serious illness due to COVID-19 include individuals over the age of 65 and those with chronic medical conditions such as lung disease, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as those with compromised immune systems. Employers should prioritize enabling workers with an increased (elevated) risk of severe illness to work remotely or use social distancing practices at the workplace. Unvaccinated workers who come in close contact with a person infected with COVID-19 generally should quarantine.COVID-19 Prevention Program
Most employers are required to establish and implement a written COVID-19 Prevention Program. California Code of Regulations, title 8, section 3205(c). Among other things, the program must identify and evaluate COVID-19 hazards in the workplace—and set forth how the employer would correct or control those hazards.
Now, as to whether your employer can get away with firing you for quarantining or isolating because of COVID-19—despite the fact that it is unlawful for your employer to do so, a lot of that rests with you. Like with any other form of wrongful termination, you need to action and assert your rights. You can accomplish this by gathering the specific facts involved and any relevant documents and filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), requesting that the DFEH conduct an impartial investigation into the matter. The DFEH will evaluate the facts you provide and decide whether to launch an investigation to determine if there is reasonable cause to believe your employer violated a law the DFEH enforces. Better yet, you may want to secure the representation of an experienced employment law attorney.Contact Us
If you have been fired for quarantining or isolating because of COVID-19, or if you believe your employer or former employer has otherwise violated your rights, including failing to pay you properly, call the experienced employment law attorneys at Kokozian Law Firm, APC or Contact Us via our online form.