No one really knows how the next few months will play out regarding reopenings and staying safe while there's no vaccine for COVID-19. However, two things are clear: there will likely be more cases, and workers heading back into office settings may find themselves in situations where exposure to the virus is a real possibility. Workers need to know how to protect themselves and what to do if they develop COVID-19 after returning. Governments are taking different paths regarding business liability, so you need to know what your employee rights are in this new situation.
1. Know Your State and Local Regulations and Rights
Each state, county, and city all have their own policies for dealing with the novel coronavirus. Many are starting to reopen nonessential businesses but are still mandating masks and other protective measures; other states are making the protective measures voluntary.
All businesses have to abide by local and state regulations. So, if you're in a state where the law of the land is that you have to wear masks and your boss forbids you from doing so, you know you have the legal standing to wear a mask at work. At the same time, if you live in a state where masks are now optional, and your boss tells you you're not allowed to wear a mask at work, you might not have a lot of wiggle room as your boss may not be breaking any laws.
2. Log Your Exposures and Symptoms
If you start to display symptoms of COVID-19 after returning to work, start keeping a detailed log (or have a family member do it if you become too weak to do so). Note when the symptoms appeared and what your exposures have been over the past two to three weeks. In many states, it may not be allowed to immediately blame returning to work for the exposure, but if you can show that your only exposure has been through work, then you might be able to build a case, depending on how your state sets up COVID liability laws.
3. Follow as Many Protective Orders as Possible
No matter what the laws are in your state, by the way, follow as many protective protocols as you can. If your state makes masks voluntary, and your boss says you can wear masks at work, do so. If you still have the option to work from home, do so. Minimize your exposure both to minimize risk and to narrow down potential blame if you do develop COVID-19.
This situation is changing daily and will likely continue to change. You do have rights as an employee during this time, but even these may change. If you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19 through work, don't assume one outcome or the other. Contact a COVID-19 employee rights lawyer to determine if your case is valid.