Indiana Employment Rights During the COVID-19 Outbreak
The outbreak of the new strain of coronavirus originating from Wuhan, China last fall has since spread across the world. Due to the virus’ severe symptoms and climbing mortality rate, officials at all levels of government across the United States have called on their constituents to shelter in place to reduce the coronavirus’ spread.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb joined the growing chorus of state governors by issuing a shelter-in-place order on March 23 to all Hoosiers, asking them to “hunker down” for at least two weeks until April 7. Following the nationwide trend, he required non-essential businesses to cease operations for the duration of the order.
As a result, many Hoosiers may have lost their jobs or faced a dramatic reduction in their anticipated incomes. If the governor extends the order beyond its two-week sundown date, many more may lose their jobs and face greater financial hardship as a result of non-essential business closures.
Workers in essential roles, on the other hand, may suffer employment law violations as a result of employers taking advantage of a confusing time or being unaware of recent changes to federal and state employment law.
Cleveland Lehner Cassidy knows you probably have a lot of questions during this time whether you’ve lost your employment or believe you’re a victim of exploitation at work. That’s why we’ve assembled answers to commonly asked questions workers may have at this time.
We encourage you to take some time to review this information, but do not substitute it for the legal advice of an attorney. Laws and regulations are rapidly changing during the coronavirus pandemic, and an attorney is always better suited to help you address the uniqueness of your situation. Consider reaching out to our employment law attorneys if you believe you’re a victim of a COVID-19 outbreak employment law violation.
Watch this informative Q&A as Attorneys Jason Cleveland and Marc Lopez discuss some of the most frequently asked questions about surviving without an income: Filing For Unemployment Q&A.
Do I Get Paid Sick Leave in Indiana?
You might. Under normal circumstances, employers in Indiana are not legally obligated to provide paid or unpaid sick leave to their workers. However, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act – which provides temporary protections for employees nationwide – passed in mid-March this year and was signed into law by President Donald Trump.
In addition to other provisions that impact workers, the law mandates two weeks of paid sick leave for employees whose employers have 50-500 employees and when the leave is taken as a result of becoming sick with COVID-19. The leave applies to full-time employees as well as their part-time counterparts, who are paid at a rate equivalent to their weekly average. Certain provisions may not apply to certain employers with less than 50 employees.
What Are the Other Protections for Workers in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act?
In addition to paid sick leave, workers whose employers have 50-500 employees are entitled to an extension of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The extension provides up to 10 weeks of paid childcare leave for employees with children whose schools have been shut down amid the outbreak of COVID-19 or have other childcare needs.
Additionally, about $1 billion was distributed to unemployment programs across the United States, many of which have relaxed qualifications for unemployment benefits.
How Do I Qualify for Unemployment Insurance Benefits Due to COVID-19?
There are several reasons why you may qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. Hoosiers who have lost their jobs or whose employers have shutdown or reduced their hours may qualify. Those who are in quarantine as ordered by a doctor or their employer may also qualify. You can also qualify if you cannot work because you now need to provide childcare as a result of a school or daycare closure.
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development has assembled its own FAQ on how it’s handling unemployment claims related to COVID-19 that can answer more specific qualification questions.
Can My Employer Force Me to Come in or Stay Home During a Public Health Crisis?
If your employer hasn’t been ordered to cease operation as a non-essential business, they can assign your work hours as they need. No law in Indiana or at the federal level requires your employer to accommodate you during an emergency. If you show signs of any infectious disease, the employer can legally require you to go home and only compensate you for the hours you worked with the exception of the medical leave provisions outlined above.
Does My Employer Have to Provide Personal Protective Equipment?
It depends on the nature of your work. Equipment like gloves, face masks, and sanitizing agents may be necessary in certain occupations right now – like those in healthcare – but not every employee is entitled to such equipment at the moment. If a reasonable person can safely perform tasks with the provided equipment or none at all, your employer does not have to provide such items.
Can My Employer Stop Me from Using Face Masks or Other Equipment?
Yes, in some cases. Some items are crucial pieces of personal protective equipment under certain circumstances, such as face masks when working directly with COVID-19 patients. However, if an item isn’t required for you to safely perform your job, your employer can ask you to refrain from using it while working.
Am I Legally Protected If I Refuse to Take on an Unsafe Task at Work?
Yes. Federal whistleblower protections permit employees to refuse assignments or perform work that a reasonable person would determine is unsafe under its given circumstances. If your employer is asking you to perform a duty such as working directly with COVID-19 patients without any personal protective equipment or training, you can refuse to do it and expect your decision to be legally protected.
If, however, you refused to take on a task that a reasonable person would determine to be safe, that may not be a legally protected decision. For example, this could be the case for a grocery store stocker who refuses to stock a depleted aisle unless he can do so with a face mask. At the moment, it’s not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wear face masks unless one is infected with COVID-19 or working with infected patients. Because the stocker doesn’t meet these criteria, he may not be protected by refusing to work without a facemask.
Can I Sue My Employer for Laying Me off or Placing Me on Unpaid Leave?
Lawsuits where an aggrieved party seeks compensation from another party must always have grounds. You may not have legal grounds to sue your employer if you were laid off or put on unpaid leave as a result an objective business decision. If, however, you believe you were targeted for discrimination or as a whistleblower and suffered a loss of employment amid the COVID-19 outbreak, you may have sufficient grounds for a lawsuit.
Under federal law, an employer cannot base their decision to eliminate or reduce your employment during the COVID-19 crisis because of your association with a protected class (age, skin color, national origin, sex, disability status, etc.). Federal whistleblower protections can also protect you if you feel you faced an adverse employment decision because you spoke up about unsafe or illegal business practices as a whistleblower.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have a Case?
If you believe something that happened to you at work during the COVID-19 outbreak was illegal, reach out to an employment law attorney who can help you assess your situation. At Cleveland Lehner Cassidy, we help employees assert their rights and hold wrongdoing employers accountable for their actions. Our attorneys are driven to make a positive impact in our clients’ lives, and we can support them in the fight for fair and just compensation.
Legal matters that may be relevant to many employees during this time can include wrongful termination, retaliation, discrimination, harassment, wage and hour laws, and more. If you feel you are a victim of an employment law violation, reach out to Cleveland Lehner Cassidy to seek legal representation.
Contact our firm online or call us at (317) 406-0855 and ask about scheduling a free consultation.