Employee Rights During a Global Pandemic in Massachusetts


As offices in Massachusetts begin to open in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an uncertain feeling that many employers and employees are starting to experience: what is going to be the “new normal”? While all employers should follow the CDC, federal, and state/local Covid-19 guidelines, it is important to know what rights employees have during this time. For more question contact an employee rights lawyer today.

What Can Employers Expect of Me During the Pandemic?

Under normal circumstances, an employer is prohibited from inquiring or performing anything disability-related unless it is directly related to the job and it must be consistent with being necessary for the business. This means that an employer can make an inquiry if the employee’s essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition, or if an employee will be a direct threat due to said medical condition. According to the EEOC, the current COVID-19 pandemic meets the direct threat standard. This is because of the direct threat a person with COVID-19 has to other people in the workplace. Employers will be able to ask if any employee is exhibiting symptoms that the CDC, WHO, and state and local governments attribute to COVID-19 such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Due to the pandemic being a direct threat, employers may also check the temperatures of their employees as a fever is a symptom that can be COVID-19 related. It is important to note however, that the results of body temperature scans and inquiries about symptoms related to COVID-19 are strictly confidential under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Employees Have a Right to a Safe Workplace

This is protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. While there is usually a broad overview of an employer ensuring that their workplace is safe for employees, during the current pandemic, this can mean many different things. According to the Department of Labor’s Guidance into reopening work, some recommended implementations to the workplace include providing hand sanitizer to employees, providing soap and water for frequent handwashing, and identifying and cleaning places that are considered to be “high traffic” areas (or where most people tend to come into contact with). If someone in the office begins to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, employers will contact coworkers to inform of the potential exposure, but they cannot reveal the identity of the individual, as this would be in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

What if I Feel Unsafe in my Workplace?

Federal law protects an employee to speak up without fear of retaliation from their company if they feel that their workplace is hazardous. If an employee believes that their workplace is unsafe, they can bring their employer’s attention to the potential hazard and/or file a complaint with OSHA. This is a protected right, and an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for raising concerns about workplace safety. Retaliation can be a demotion, a transfer, fire, or any other type of action against the worker.

If you feel that your employer retaliated against you after bringing to their attention concerns about the health and safety of your workplace, please consult an experienced employee rights lawyer who will be able to provide guidance based on your specific needs.