Coronavirus FAQ: What to Do If You Are Working in an Unsafe Environment
by J. Gonzalez Injury Attorneys | May 13th, 2020 | Recent News
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed an executive order stipulating the path Texas will follow to reopen its economy. In an effort to stabilize the economy and curtail losses, non-essential businesses and restaurants are slowly being allowed to reopen with limited occupancy beginning May 1st.
This executive order will override any local guidelines and curfews put in place by local governments. The only exceptions seem to be museums and libraries, which may still be subject to local ordinances.
The governor’s plan to reopen the state’s economy is intended to let a limited number of people inside certain establishments. Both customers and establishments will be required to practice sanitation protocols and social distancing measures in order to control the spread of COVID-19.
Some employees may feel skeptical about returning to work this soon, so to help our clients understand their options, the McAllen personal injury lawyers of J.Gonzalez Injury Attorneys have compiled a list addressing the most frequently asked questions related to returning to work in the Rio Grande Valley during this national health crisis. If you feel you are being pressured to return to unsafe working conditions, you may be able to take civil action against your employer.
FAQs About Working During COVID-19
1. How will the governor’s plan work?
The governor of Texas has determined that, in keeping with federal guidelines, advice from medical professionals, and input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas will begin reopening its economy on May 1. The governor signed an executive order establishing his authority to reopen the economy and his plan on how to do so.
Under the governor’s plan, there are two thresholds that Texas counties can meet that will determine the extent to which they can resume normal business. It’s worth noting that the executive order also stipulates that the governor may extend lockdown measures in specific counties if he determines that it would be the safest course of action.
Threshold One: the May 1st Deadline
The governor and his advisors have already determined that Texas has passed this threshold, so, unless your county has a significantly higher level of COVID-19 cases than the Texas average, most businesses should meet this requirement automatically assuming they fall into the categories listed below.
In all Texas counties — so far — reopened services and locations will be able to operate only if they limit themselves to 25 percent of the total listed occupancy for the location. Restaurants that make more than 51 percent of their gross receipts from alcohol sales may be subject to more strict guidelines. Valet services are restricted to those with “placards or plates for disabled parking.”
Businesses and services allowed to reopen include the following:
- Shopping malls
- Movie theaters
- Those working alone in offices
- Golf courses
- Local government operations
As mentioned above, libraries and museums may be subject to stricter local guidelines. In shopping malls, food courts and any interactive services are to remain closed to the public.
Threshold Two: Five or Fewer Cases
The executive order stipulates another level of reopening that counties may qualify for if they meet “the requisite attestation form promulgated by DSHS [Texas Department of State Health Services] regarding five or fewer cases of COVID- 19.” If the county files with the DSHS and is approved, the businesses listed above may reopen and allow up to 50 percent of the total listed occupancy.
- Businesses have the right to choose if they want to resume operations or not during these phases.
- Businesses choosing to re-open must enforce CDC and WHO guidelines and follow the necessary safety measures for both customers and employees.
- Essential businesses may continue to operate as usual.
- Licensed healthcare professionals may return to work.
2. If I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of going back to work, will I be at risk of being fired if I don’t show up?
If you do not feel safe returning to work due to the current status of COVID-19, you should contact your employer and ask if there might be any alternatives available for those wishing to remain isolated.
As noted above, all businesses, essential and non-essential, are required to follow the necessary safety protocols such as practicing social distancing and providing sanitation supplies in order to operate. If your employer doesn’t take the appropriate and reasonable steps to protect you and your co-workers from a hazardous work environment, you may be able to file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Under OSHA’s guidelines, you may be able to claim that the danger posed is significant enough, and you may be able to argue that OSHA doesn’t have the time to investigate that risk before the harm is done, giving you the right to refuse to go to work. However, we and OSHA recommend being cautious before claiming this right. We would recommend speaking to a legal advisor before refusing to work under OSHA guidelines.
3. What if my employer decides to retaliate and fire me for not going to work in potentially hazardous conditions?
If you are working in conditions that are unsafe, and your employer is failing to enforce the proper CDC and WHO protocols required by the state of Texas, you may be able to file a wrongful termination claim. OSHA recommends calling their office immediately upon your termination. Complaints must be made within 30 days of the alleged retaliation.
4. What if I contract the coronavirus at work, can I take legal action?
Under OSHA’s guidelines, your employer is required to protect you from a hazardous work environment. Under Texas and federal guidelines, that means following the CDC’s recommendations by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers who come into close proximity with others. If you feel your employer has failed to take reasonable measures to protect you from contracting COVID-19, you may be eligible to take legal action.
Dedicated McAllen Attorneys Ready to Fight for Your Rights
As an employee, you have rights. If your employer fails to follow state guidelines thus putting you, your coworkers, your family, and your customers at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, you may be able to hold them responsible. If you contract the virus as a result of unsafe working conditions, consider contacting legal representation to determine if you have a case.
With the world facing a global health crisis and widespread lockdowns, it can be easy to feel isolated and alone. Our team would like you to know that, if you’ve contracted the virus, you don’t have to face the legal system alone. The personal injury lawyers of J. Gonzalez Injury Attorneys would be proud to represent you.