When the novel coronavirus hit the United States and COVID-19 developed into a global pandemic, the process and places of work changed drastically almost overnight. Undervalued jobs like grocery workers and utility workers became essential; and workplaces like offices and factories shut down, making working from home the new and overarching norm for businesses across the country. With all the change and instability, unemployment has become a reality for many citizens.
Close to 4 million Americans have filed for unemployment relief since the pandemic began, including upwards of 33,000 Texans. Many have not received their unemployment benefits, but what’s worse is that some of these Texans were terminated illegally. Employee rights related to unemployment have shifted to the forefront of economic concerns, but the topic is a confusing one in general, let alone during an unprecedented pandemic. If you are unsure of your rights or feel that your rights have been infringed, consulting with an attorney who has experience with employment disputes is a prudent choice.
If you have become unemployed because of pandemic-related workforce reductions or layoffs and believe it is due to your employer skirting Texas law, you might have a valid case against your employer. Maybe you have raised concerns about health and safety efforts being inadequate or inappropriate because you have underlying health conditions that render you high-risk; or maybe you have requested leave to care for a family member affected by COVID-19—if you suffered job termination for these or similar reasons, your employer might have acted illegally.
The US Department of Labor requires employers to adhere to certain laws and regulations overseen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must comply with a set of standards that ensure a safe working environment for all employees. If your employer is not doing so by adhering to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for instance, and fires you for not going to work onsite or accommodating you with a work-from-home option, you might have a legitimate wrongful termination claim. Further, if you are complying with an official stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order for quarantine or isolation that is beneficial to the public welfare, you also might have a legitimate claim if you are terminated. And if your employer denies you leave to care for yourself or a direct family member with COVID-19 and terminates you because your caretaking duties keep you from working, he or she might be in violation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (or more generally, the Family and Medical Leave Act); this also would be grounds for a claim against your employer.
If your employer has terminated you or denied you any reasonable accommodation or leave to which you are entitled due to the impact of COVID-19, he or she might have unfairly taken advantage of your circumstances and acted illegally. You should meet with a qualified business lawyer like Brad Reeves who is skilled in dealing with employment disputes to discuss the way forward. The professional Reeves Law team can help—contact the team today for a free consultation.