The SARS-COV-2 virus, also known as COVID-19, has spread to all corners of the globe, including the workplace. Workplace safety while working alongside the coronavirus is essential and employers have a responsibility to do all in their power to prevent their employees from being exposed to the virus. Many workers may feel uncomfortable returning to work and may have many questions they need answered before going back to their office, retail location, restaurant, or other work site.
Frequently asked questions related to coronavirus workplace safety:
- What are my health and safety rights at work with regard to COVID-19? All workers in the United States have the right to work in a safe workplace that is free from known health and safety hazards. Employers should be training all workers in any new safety protocols implemented to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in a language that they can understand. If new cleaning products or chemicals are being used for disinfecting the workplace, workers have the right to be protected from those hazardous chemicals.
- What is my employer required to do to keep work safe? In Texas, employers must follow specific regulations to protect their workers and customers. The Texas Department of State Health Services has published re-opening safety guidelines, which are available here. All employers must make a good faith effort to follow these regulations, which includes record keeping to show they are attempting to comply.
- Will my employer give me Personal Protective Equipment? Under existing OSHA workplace guidelines, workers should be provided with all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, goggles, face masks, face shields, and respiratory protection, to keep them safe while doing their jobs. It is your employer’s responsibility to evaluate the risks of COVID-19, determine what PPE needs to be provided to protect you in your work environment, provide training, and periodically review how effective the PPE is in preventing workers from contracting the virus. Your employer will generally pay for any required PPE with very few exceptions.
- What if I think my employer is not being safe? If you return to work and feel that your employer is not providing you with a safe work environment during the coronavirus pandemic, you have the right to report this to the authorities. Document any and all safety violations you see while working. Save all evidence of your employer breaking safety rules or asking you to break them while you are working. Take notes of the time, place, and any witnesses. If you speak to your employer directly, bring up your concerns and give them a chance to fix the problem. If your employer does not make changes, you can report their safety violations confidentially to OSHA by phone, fax, or website. Any employee, current or former, can file a whistleblower complaint if they feel unsafe during the COVID-19 pandemic. If the violations have occurred in Texas, you have the right to contact the Texas Department of Insurance, a division of Texas Worker’s Compensation (TDI-DWC), or the local health department to report the safety violation.
- Can I refuse to work in an unsafe or unhealthy workplace? You have the right to refuse to work if your employer is putting you in danger of death or physical harm. Contracting COVID-19 may be considered a viable reason for refusing to work depending on your circumstances. If you are about to refuse to work because of your employer’s unsafe workplace, it is crucial to talk to an attorney first to make sure you will be legally protected.
- Can my employer retaliate against me if I report unsafe or unhealthy work conditions? Workers have the right to speak up about health and safety issues in the workplace without being retaliated against. It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for filing reports about their safety practices. If you have been retaliated against for reporting a health or safety issue at work, you can file a retaliation complaint with an attorney who can help you to pursue legal action against your employer.
- I am a Texas healthcare worker, what are my rights? Healthcare workers in Texas are given special protections under a variety of Texas laws including having the right to report unsafe patient conditions, refusing to do something they believe violates the law, and refusing to do something that creates unsafe patient conditions. This also applies to employees at hospitals, mental health facilities, treatment centers, and nursing homes. If a healthcare worker has exercised any of these rights in regards to coronavirus workplace safety, and their employer retaliates against them by suspending, firing, or discriminating against them, they have the right to sue their employer.
Houston Workplace Lawyers
All workers deserve to be safe while working during the coronavirus pandemic. If you or a loved one has contracted COVID-19 while working in Houston, Texas, you may be entitled to compensation. There is limited time to act following a workplace injury, so please contact Dax F. Garza, P.C. to discuss your case at no charge.