Worker Rights in a Publish-COVID Office

Sunday, February 21, 2021

A year after the pandemic began, life feels more uncertain than ever. This uncertainty extends to issues related to workers’ rights and workplace protection. Some new rights have emerged or may be on the horizon, and other existing rights have been highlighted. However, there are still major gaps across the spectrum of workers’ rights and protection.

What’s new

Parts of the new Massachusetts Paid Family Vacation Act went into effect on January 1, 2021, despite not being specifically enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees are now entitled to paid, sheltered vacation for a number of reasons, including their own severe health condition for which an employee is entitled to up to 20 weeks of paid vacation per year. From July 1, 2021, employees are also entitled to paid leave to care for a family member in severe health for up to 12 weeks per year.

What’s new useful?

Anti-discrimination laws, such as the Disabled Americans Act and its Massachusetts counterpart, Chapter 151B, require employers to provide disabled workers with reasonable accommodation to enable them to perform the essential functions of their jobs. More recently, a number of employees have successfully claimed that the risk of COVID-19 during the pandemic is a disability that employers must adequately address. In one such case, an employee with asthma received a court order compelling his employer to allow him to work from home as adequate accommodation. See Peeples v Clinical Support Options, Inc. (D. Mass. September 16, 2020)

Other laws in place may help employees struggling through the pandemic. For example, since 2015, most employers in Massachusetts have been required to provide employees with paid sick time under the Earned Sick Time Law. At the federal level, the Family Leave Act stipulates that most employers must grant employees who are unable to work due to a serious state of health or who look after an immediate family member with a serious state of health, 12 weeks of industrial safety leave. However, this leave can be unpaid.

What is missing

You may have read last year’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act which required certain employers to grant paid vacation leave to employees for a number of reasons, including childcare, quarantine, and COVID-19 symptoms. Unfortunately, this law expired on December 31, 2020.[1]

There is currently no federal law requiring employers to grant paid vacation. President Biden’s current proposal contains some provisions on paid leave, but it is too early to know what will ultimately become law.

The labor legal landscape in COVID-19 is constantly changing, and the benefits of having experienced legal counsel in dealing with such issues cannot be underestimated.

[1] Congress also passed the Coronavirus Aide, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”), the not expire. For more information on the CARES Act and its impact on executive employment, please see our article here.

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