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Coronavirus Law: Can I Be Fired For Refusing To Work?

Coronavirus Law: Can I Be Fired For Refusing To Work?

Best Ohio Coronavirus Employment Attorney Answer: Can my boss make me come to work during the COVID-19 pandemic? Can I be fired for speaking out against unsafe working conditions during the Coronavirus epidemic? What does the company I work for have to do if a coworker tests positive for COVID-19? If I was fired today because of the Coronavirus, can I sue for wrongful termination?

The Coronavirus pandemic caused millions of Americans to file for unemployment. Employers are cutting wages, furloughing workers, and taking other measures for millions more. Big companies are trying desperately to save money in any way they can, and the American public is paying for it. At this point, per Governor Mike DeWine’s stay at home order, only essential businesses are to continue operating during the order. Check out some of recent blogs written by the top Ohio employment law lawyers. (See: Can My Boss Make Me Come To Work During A Stay At Home Order?; COVID-19: Can Non-Essential Businesses Operate?; and Can My Boss Make Me Work At Home Because Of The Coronavirus?).

In the United States, Amazon has become one of the most highly visited and utilized services and is certainly deemed to be an essential business. So just as any other essential business, Amazon employees continue to report to work despite the dangers of exposure to the virus. This puts not only the employees’ lives at risk, but also the lives of their families and other loved ones who they may be quarantining with. In New York, the Amazon employees are not standing for it anymore.

In New York, a group of Amazon employees got together to protest Amazon’s work conditions after they continued to be required to attend work despite one of their coworkers contracting the virus. Christian Smalls was the so-called ringleader of this protest, and he was terminated for refusing to work and complaining about the dangerous working conditions. This is unlawful. Our employment attorneys all agree that this is a wrongful termination.

First, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) protects whistle blowers who report unsafe or dangerous working conditions. This typically affects employees who work in industrial or manufacturing fields and have witnessed their employer knowingly, or purposefully skimping on safety measures. Employees who report the employer’s misconduct can then avail themselves of the protections offered by the OSHA if the employer retaliates against them for having blown the whistle. See some of our other whistleblower blogs written by the top Ohio employment discrimination lawyers for more information. (See: Fired In Retaliation For Reporting Sexual Harassment?; Can I Be Fired Because I Complained About Discrimination?; and Can I Sue If I’m Fired For Reporting Discrimination Or Harassment?) .

Next, Ohio law makes it illegal for companies to fire employees in retaliation for making protected complaints. Specifically, Ohio’s whistleblower statute Revised Code § 4113.52 states:

“If an employee becomes aware in the course of the employee’s employment of a violation of any state or federal statute or any ordinance or regulation of a political subdivision that the employee’s employer has authority to correct, and the employee reasonably believes that the violation is a criminal offense that is likely to cause an imminent risk of physical harm to persons or a hazard to public health or safety, a felony, or an improper solicitation for a contribution, the employee orally shall notify the employee’s supervisor or other responsible officer of the employee’s employer of the violation and subsequently shall file with that supervisor or officer a written report that provides sufficient detail to identify and describe the violation.”

This makes it the duty of employees to report unsafe working conditions. Since it is their duty, it is extremely unfair for companies to retaliate against the employees reporting these conditions who were simply complying with their duty to report the unsafe conditions. In the Amazon case, the Attorney General stated, according to foxnews.com:

“It is disgraceful that Amazon would terminate an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues,” James said in a statement. “At the height of a global pandemic, Chris Smalls and his colleagues publicly protested the lack of precautions that Amazon was taking to protect them from COVID-19.” – Fox News

Coronavirus Law: Can I Be Fired For Refusing To Work?

As our employment lawyers have previously blogged about, there is a case that was appealed in the Court of Appeals of New York titled Tipaldo v. Lynn that interpreted what an employer has to do in order to comply with such a statute. In Tipaldo, an employee refused to sign off on a request by his boss to pay for new road signs from a company owned by a friend of his boss because this was a clear violation of the law. Tipaldo was subsequently demoted and then terminated. Tipaldo reported this illegal activity not to his direct supervisor but instead to the inspector general which didn’t comply with the statute. However, the court uses a “good-faith” standard to determine whether an employees’ actions comply with a statute. That court held reporting unsafe condition as a whistleblower is encouraged by these laws to prevent your boss, manager or the owner of the company from engaging in employer misconduct.

These employment laws further provide appropriate remedies to employees who take a stand against illegal or unsafe employer conduct.

Under these employment laws, employees in are not required to report to the appointing authority where such a report would not prove to be practical and possibly slow down a quicker resolution of the problem. As such, our employment attorneys always recommend to timely report such unsafe or illegal conditions to your employer in writing. The requirement to report dangerous or unlawful conditions in writing is very important and the failure to do so may block any later claim for retaliation, wrongful firing or other employment claims. Therefore, be sure to keep a copy of any report – either by making a copy, keeping the original that is faxed or saving the test message or email to a secure location.

So, let’s go back to Smalls. Smalls acted in a manner that is consistent with the court’s interpretation of “good-faith” relating to the statute. Christian wanted to report Amazon’s unsafe working conditions which were the requirement of employees to continue attending work despite a coworker being diagnosed with the Coronavirus. This poses a significant threat to the Amazon workforce working alongside this employee. OSHA and the Ohio Revised Code protect employees from unsafe working conditions, and it also protects Christian’s reporting of the working conditions and thus his termination could be viewed as unlawful because of the court’s good faith analysis showing that the statutes look to prevent employer misconduct and provide the right remedies when it occurs.

You may be asking, what should Christian do? Well, first he should call the right attorney to get the top legal advice available concerning employment law. In a situation where an employee makes a complaint about unsafe work conditions and refuses to come to work, the employer will do one of three things: comply with the stay at home order or OSHA safe working conditions requirements, ignore the complaint, or fire the employee. Like in Christian’s case, and employee who is terminated for making a protected complaint has a claim for retaliation. Again, it should be noted that, in Ohio, the whistleblower statute is strict in certain respects that the protected complaint has to be in writing. Christian should seek the help of the top Ohio employment discrimination attorneys in resolving his claim of retaliation.

Simply because a big company finds it necessary to have employees report for work so they can continue to profit is not an excuse to put the lives of employees in danger. Businesses must put the health and safety of their employees above any concerns about profits and production.

At The Spitz Law Firm, our employment lawyers are standing by to take on your Coronavirus related employment claims, including if you are searching “I need a lawyer because I have been wrongfully fired or terminated;” “I have been discriminated against or harassed based on my disability or diagnosis”; or “I was fired for asking about Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) during the COVID-19 pandemic.” In these uncertain times, if even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Call our lawyers in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati to get help now. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

Coronavirus Law: Can I Be Fired For Refusing To Work?

Disclaimer:

This employment law website is an advertisement. The materials available at the top of this Coronavirus page and at this employee’s attorney website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “How do I get medical leave during the Coronavirus pandemic?”, “What should I do if I was wrongly fired to block my use of FMLA,” “My boss refused to let me wear a mask to work” or “I was fired today for reporting OSHA violations”, it would be best for to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular employment law issue or problem. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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