News & Insights

05 . 13 | COVID-19

What You Need to Know About Wrongful Termination and COVID-19 In California

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The more things change, the more they stay the same. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, American workers have certain fundamental rights. The most important of these are the right to a safe workplace and the right to voice concerns about your safety without fear of reprisal. Keep reading to learn more about what this means for you now.

Your rights under federal law

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency operated under the auspices ofthe U.S. Department of Labor. One of it functions is to protect workersby creating and enforcing relevant workplace standards

This protection is afforded to most private sector employees directly or through one of OSHA’s officially recognized state plans. Local and state government workers in states or territories with federally endorsed state programs, are also covered. So are federal government workers.

Accordingly, all U.S. employers must comply with applicable OSHA standards . As per the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, they must also keep their workplace free of “serious recognized hazards.”

This generally means that under federal law, your employer must:

  • Ensure you are not subjected to any known health or safety hazards
  • Ensure you have required safety equipment
  • Provide protection from poisonous chemicals
  • Provide training in a language you understand
  • Ensure that you are working on safe machinery

OSHA standards and prevention of workplace exposure to COVID-19

On its website, OSHA has confirmed that its federal requirements do apply to the workplace prevention of COVID-19.

These include but are not limited to:

  • The general industry standards for the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) as specified in 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I
  • The Respiratory Protection standard as specified in 29 CFR 1910.134 (if necessary)
  • The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970

Applicability of state standards

OSHA has also acknowledged the applicability of state standards created and enforced through its “approved state plans.” In California, this includes the Aerosol Transmissible Disease Standardscreated and enforced by the Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health (Cal/OSHA).

The ATD standard is designed to prevent the spread of workplace illnessthrough the inhalation of air containing viruses, bacteria, or other such contagions. As set forth in Title 8 CCR; Section 5199, it specifically applies to workplaces where infectious disease is most likely to occur. Examples include hospitals, urgent care and similar clinics, emergency medical services and laboratories.

The ATD Standard – Zoonotic is designed to protect employees from illnesses that animals can transmit to people.

Other state standards and protocols may also apply. These include protocols for identifying COVID-19 as a workplace hazard, hazard mitigation and relevant employee training.

Making complaints and freedom from retaliation

California workers have the right to voice concerns about workplace safety and health hazards under the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973. The law also includes provisions for confidentiality. Among other things, this means the name of any worker who makes a complaint will be withheld unless he or she specifies otherwise.

You can learn more about how and where to make a complaintby following the applicable link on Cal/OSHA’s website.

State and federal laws also protect employees who file formal workplace safety and health complaints from retaliation or discrimination. If you made or make any such complaint about a California workplace and feel you were subjected to unjust treatment, you can find detailed information about your options under applicable state laws, here.

The applicable federal law is set forth in Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 USC 660(c). It also bars employers from retaliating against workers who make formal complaints or otherwise express concern about safety and health conditions. This means that you cannot be fired, transferred, demoted or mistreated in any other way solely because you raised such concerns.

To learn more about your rights, or to get legal guidance about your options if you feel you have been unfairly treated after raising concerns about COVID-19 in your workplace, contact LawPLA, today.


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