5 On Your Side

COVID at your job? Here's what the boss will and won't do for you

Posted August 17, 2020 6:10 p.m. EDT
Updated August 17, 2020 6:42 p.m. EDT

A co-worker is diagnosed with COVID-19. There’s a possibility it’s in your workplace. Most of us would want to know if it happens and would want an employer to take specific steps if it does. Legal experts tell 5 On Your Side’s Monica Laliberte, it’s not that simple.

Here are a few examples of emails WRAL received:

Email A:

"… someone .tested positive a couple days ago … and the store isn’t saying anything about it."

"… no one is cleaning the back room…"…. "associates are panicking"

Email B:

"….3 stylists tested positive …. the staff was not notified …"

Email C:

"…four new cases…. management does not say who has been in contact with them."

5 On Your Side took your questions and concerns to Katie Abernethy, a local employment attorney with the Noble Law Firm.

"There may be differences of opinion between an employee and an employer about what is adequate," she said.

Abernethy addressed three concerns we’re hearing from employees.

First: Notification.

"You will probably not get a specific notice, and there’s no current regulatory requirement for your employer to give you a specific notice," said Abernethy. "It’s a `you might be exposed, you should get yourself tested.’"

Unless any employee with the virus gives permission to share details, managers have limits, "because the employee who tested positive for COVID has legal protections in the workplace," added Abernethy.

Next: Disinfection.

A lot of viewers are asking why businesses remain open.

The CDC says "Companies do not necessarily need to close operations, if they can close off affected areas," or areas used by the person who was sick.

"What they are advising employers to do right now is regular, systematic and rigorous, soap and water cleanings," said Abernethy.

She suggests that employees ask about what procedures are used to clean and disinfect.

Third: Risk

Accepting that we’re in a pandemic, and want and need businesses open, Abernethy says there is some level of risk we all accept.

"If an employee is looking for an environment in which they have no risk, that’s where they’re going to likely come in conflict with the employer, because just opening the doors to the business automatically is a health risk to some extent," she said.

Abernethy says if an employer isn’t following the CDC’s guidance, workers can file a complaint with the NC Department of Labor’s Occupational, Safety and Health division.

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