May 20 is Around the Corner, and I’m Scared to Go Back to Work

May 13 2020

For the last two months, our Connecticut communities have been shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic.  As of today (May 13), there have been 34,333 confirmed COVID-19 cases; there are 1,189 current hospitalizations; and 3,041 COVID-19 associated deaths.  The unemployment rate is tough to know with certainty, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics report it’s 14.7% (the highest since the Great Depression) and, according to Forbes, could be over 20%.  It’s safe to say that, for most people, the overwhelming feelings these days are those of loss and fear about the future.

In some respects, we have become accustomed to those feelings.  And it’s only natural that it’s hard to let these feelings go even though the State of Connecticut plans to reopen some of its non-essential businesses in just over a week, likely on May 20.  Many people have shared with us their fears about going back to work.  For some, it feels like a catch-22: the opportunity to earn an income again may come with an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure.

In addition to the essential businesses that have remained open with restrictions, on May 20 the following will reopen: restaurants (outdoor only); remaining retail; outdoor recreation; offices (work from home when possible); personal services, such as hair and nail salons; museums and zoos (outdoor only); and university research.  These businesses are instructed to limit capacity to 50%, permit those who can work from home to continue doing so, practice cleaning and disinfection protocols, and employ other safety measures that have been in place for essential businesses.  For each sector that will reopen on May 20, the State of Connecticut has created comprehensive guidelines that explain how to keep the public spaces safe for employees and visitors.  To read the guideline for your industry, click here.

If you have a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, you may be able to request to work from home as a reasonable accommodation.  This could apply to those who have diagnosed anxiety or another mental health condition, if the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing symptoms.  In Connecticut, pregnant women could qualify for a reasonable accommodation, too.

It’s a bit murkier for vulnerable individuals, such as elderly workers and those with serious underlying health conditions like high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and compromised immune systems.  Whether the condition necessitates a reasonable accommodation during this COVID-19 pandemic is highly case specific.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued a lengthy guidance that may help you navigate these difficult waters so you can be prepared when you are asked to return to work.

If the ADA doesn’t apply to you, there are still a couple things to keep in mind.  In general, fear alone is not a sufficient reason to refuse to go back to work.  So having a comprehensive knowledge about your industry’s workplace standards could give you sufficient tools to go back to work with confidence.  Once you return to work, if you feel your employer is not complying with the guidelines for your industry, you have a few options, including raising the issues with your employer.  Come talk to us and we can discuss your options, including the legal protections you would have if you chose to report your employer’s non-compliance.

The employment attorneys at Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. have decades of experience fighting for the rights of Connecticut’s workers, including rights protected under the ADA.  Contact us today to learn how we can assist you.

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