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Employee Rights as They Go Back to Work

Posted onJune 1, 2020

As businesses in Tulsa keep reopening after the COVID-19 shutdown, there will certainly be a “new normal” for everyone involved. Both employers and employees will need to follow new strict protocols. While many people are happy to be earning a paycheck after a hiatus, they also might be fearful of a second wave and exposing themselves and their loved ones. This is a delicate situation, and it is important to keep employee rights in mind. If you are an employer and need guidance or you are an employee, and you believe your rights have been violated, contact a Tulsa employment law attorney for help right away. 

Asking About Symptoms or Illness

Generally speaking, the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) prevents employers from asking about medical conditions or disabilities that do not directly pertain to an employee’s job duties. However, when it comes to possible symptoms of COVID-19, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidancethat employers are permitted to ask employees if they are sick or might be exhibiting symptoms. However, all information must be handled confidentially. 

What if an Employee is High Risk?

If you have a medical condition that puts you at high risk for coronavirus, you might qualify for a reasonable accommodation from your employer. However, an employee must request an accommodation, as unless the need for accomodation is readily apparent without notice, companies are not obligated to offer accommodations without a request. An employer might also require medical documentation to prove your need for an accommodation. 

Anti-Discrimination and Harassment

All employee rights to be free from unlawful discrimination and harassment at work remain firmly in place. There are different types of discrimination or harassment that might be more likely in light of the pandemic, including based on a person’s race, ethnicity, or age. Harassment or discrimination due to disabilities and medical conditions might also arise. Employers should take steps to train employees and make it clear that this type of conduct is unacceptable.


There are many reasons why an employer may retaliate against an employee, and retaliation can take many forms. If an employee exercises a lawful right, the employer is prohibited from taking any type of adverse employment action against that employee as a result. Adverse employment actions that might constitute retaliation include:

  • Demotion
  • Reduction of hours
  • Pay decrease
  • Denial of a pay increase or promotion
  • Undesirable transfer or assignment
  • Harassment
  • Termination

The underlying reason for the retaliation can also vary, and some reasons might be more common as businesses open up again. Some reasons for unlawful retaliation might include:

  • Using sick time
  • Using paid time off
  • Using family and medical leave
  • Complaining of harassment at work
  • Complaining of unlawful discrimination
  • Reporting an employer’s failure to follow health restrictions and guidelines
  • Complaining of wage issues

Employers should be careful to never retaliate against employees for exercising a right.

Wage and Hour Claims

Many businesses struggled if they had to temporarily shut down, and the financial issues might not resolve right away. Some employers might be tempted to cut corners by not paying employees their full wages at first, or failing issue paychecks when necessary. Even if a company is having budget problems, it still needs to ensure that employers are properly paid for all hours worked as required by Oklahoma law. 

Health and Safety at Work

Many businesses are opening with strict health guidelines to protect both employees and customers. However, we all know that not everyone in the Tulsa area is taking precautions seriously. While a good portion of the work environments may not require the strictest guidelines and requirements, there are a number of work environments that should, depending on the density of their employee arrangement and nature of their business.. In those situations, some employers might not enforce requirements for masks, gloves, or social distancing, which puts employees at unnecessary risk of exposure. 

In Oklahoma, employees have the right to a healthy and safe workplace, and they should not be expected to work in unreasonably risky conditions or conditions that do not comply with safety standards. Employees can raise concerns and refuse to work in unsafe conditions if an employer does not address the problem.

Consult with a Tulsa Employment Law Attorney Today

If you are an employer or an employee and have any questions or concerns about employee rights as businesses reopen, contact a Tulsa employment lawyer at Wandres Law, PC. Call or contact us online to set up your consultation and learn how we can help in your situation. 


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