MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Every day Mid-South residents reach out to FOX13 concerned about returning to work, or the conditions of their workplace, in the era of COVID-19.
The question is always will I still get paid if I don’t go back to work? FOX13 took that question to an attorney who handles unemployment law.
He said, like so many things right now, it really just depends on who you are.
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“What it looks like is, if an individual is unable to return to work because of either their own medical concerns or potentially because of childcare issues, at least through the end of the school year, they can continue to receive unemployment benefits,” attorney Bryce Ashby said.
Ashby is an attorney at Donati Law in Memphis. He said there are options for people who have pre-existing conditions or are immunocompromised.
The first request should be for reasonable accommodation, like a continuation of teleworking.
“If that’s not available, which it isn’t for so many people, they may want to request a transfer to another position,” said Ashby. “Ultimately if that doesn’t work for them and their doctor opines they shouldn’t return to work, as long as they have that documented, at that point they may want to seek unemployment benefits.”
If you aren’t immunocompromised but don’t feel safe going back to work, there are fewer options available.
There are guidelines in place, but for the most part, there are no requirements that workplaces be sanitized or send employees home if someone has tested positive.
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And if you quit your job, in most circumstances, you won’t qualify for unemployment.
Ashby said those on unemployment because of COVID-19 will have a harder time proving they should stay on it.
“As much as people can, they need to be planning for the long term and envisioning a future that may not have the supplemental income, and trying to figure out a way they’ll be able to get by in the long term,” he said.
Ashby said it is always a good idea to talk to a lawyer before taking any action, but he knows many people can’t afford one right now.
He also suggested calling OSHA or your state OSHA office if you feel your work environment isn’t safe.
In Shelby County, call the health department to report unsafe working conditions.
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