April 9, 2020

Employment Law

Workplace Safety in the Age of COVID-19

While the COVID-19 pandemic felt like a sudden takeover, putting millions of U.S. workers at risk, employers still have a duty to ensure workplace safety for their employees. Those in essential roles, especially on the front lines in healthcare and emergency services, continue to face risks and workplace hazards. If you are an employee who has faced dangerous working conditions, it is important to know your rights and to protect yourself in the wake of the coronavirus.

Minneapolis and St. Paul COVID-19 Employee Rights Lawyers

Minnesota employment laws and local employment regulations are shifting quickly to address COVID-19 and its impact on employers as well as employees. Our firm is staying abreast of this rapidly changing situation by continually monitoring the CDC website, state and local government enforcement of laws, as well as the Congressional action to meet the needs of our clients during these extraordinary times. As such, we will continue to be a reliable source of qualified legal counsel and will provide you with the information you need to protect your rights as an employee.

Minnesota “Non-Essential” Workers Continue Stay-at-Home Order Through May 3, 2020

On April 8, 2020, Governor Tim Walz issued Executive Order 20-33 directing all non-critical Minnesota workers to stay at home through end of day May 3, 2020 (effectively extending Walz’s original stay-at-home order which went into effect March 27, 2020). According to the order, “all persons currently living within the State of Minnesota are ordered to stay at home or in their place of residence except to engage in the Activities and Critical Sector work.” The order does not restrict virtual work or telework and, when possible, Minnesotans, including Critical Sector workers, are encouraged to work from home when possible. Details about this Order and Critical Sector workers can be found here.

Critical Section Employee Protections Amid COVID-19

Members of critical sectors who will continue their work include, but are not limited to, healthcare service workers, mental healthcare providers, workers in homecare, child and adult care, law enforcement and first responders, grocery store employees and operators, energy and water workers, transportation providers, public works employees, communications and information technology (media) workers, critical manufacturing and construction, financial services, public service workers, hotels and shelter employees, legal service providers, home supply store employees, and government workers.

Despite the unforeseen nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, employers still must comply with Minnesota employee health and safety laws and federal OSHA regulations for employees in these exempted industries. If you work in a critical sector and have continued to work outside the home but feel that your health is in danger, you may have workplace protections. Our attorneys can help you protect your rights and take action in the case of retaliation.

Can I quit going to work because of a COVID-19 risk?

Under the Governor Walz’s executive order, only critical employees are required to go to work during this outbreak. If you work in a medical environment without protective equipment, you may have the right to refuse work to avoid exposure to COVID-19. If you are a critical employee with concerns about contracting the disease, contact us to understand your rights.

Does my employer have a duty to provide protective gear?

Both the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Minnesota OSHA require employers to protect workers, promote safe and healthful working conditions, and prevent the spread of communicable diseases in the workplace. This means that employers must provide employees with reasonable protective equipment depending on the nature of the position and worker responsibilities.

Can my employer fire me for reporting unsafe conditions?

No. If you have suffered any form of retaliation for reporting unsafe conditions or refusing to go to work because of workplace safety violations, you may have the right to file a legal claim. Complaints can be made directly to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry within 30 days of the adverse employment action. Or contact our attorneys to discuss your rights. Our lawyers are experienced with wrongful termination and retaliation claims and will fight to protect the rights of workers who have been unlawfully discharged or suffered mistreatment for refusing to work or reporting a COVID-19 workplace danger. In addition, employers cannot retaliate against employees who contract or who are exposed to COVID-19 and stay home to isolate or quarantine by recommendation of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). (See also Coronavirus and Family and Medical Leave Rights.)

Minnesota Workplace Safety and COVID-19 Employee Exposure Attorneys

If you feel that your personal health and safety have been put at risk during the coronavirus outbreak, our lawyers are prepared to investigate your case and take action against your employers. Despite the uncharted and complicated nature of COVID-19 cases, our attorneys have vast experience in employment related claims in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and throughout Minnesota. The COVID-19 employment lawyers at Wanta Thome PLC will review your information to assess your case and pursue all of your legal options. Contact us to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources

MN DOL: Worker Protections Related to COVID-19

MN DOL: COVID-19 – Protecting Grocery Store Workers

Discrimination in the Workplace Amid COVID-19