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Coronavirus: Can your boss quarantine you?

Some companies may order workers home
Posted at 8:11 PM, Mar 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-10 23:11:08-04

TUCSON, Ariz. - The COVID-19 coronavirus has been forcing businesses to come up with policies to protect workers from contagion and make sure companies can continue to operate.

But are those policies are fair and in line with employment law?

There are companies that have told workers if there's a chance they've been exposed to coronavirus they need to stay home for two weeks of self quarantine. If they have no paid time off the two weeks are unpaid. We asked an attorney whether policies like that fit employment law.

Attorney Ivelisse Bonilla of the employment law firm Awerkamp, Bonilla and Giles says a boss had better have a good reason to send someone home, especially if they have no symptoms and they're sent home with no pay.

“They're not sick. Therefore, should they be required to use their sick time when they're not sick? That's why it would need to be that the employer truly has reason to believe there's a direct threat to the employees and then say you have to work from home. If that employee can not work from home I would encourage the employer to understand this will have financial consequences."

She thinks travel restrictions and knowledge of outbreak locations will reduce the chance companies will run into this problem but knowing a worker's been in a situation that really raises the risk could help justify a company sending someone home.

Bonilla says, “The employer would have to have information to believe that employee may pose a direct threat. And that would be an employee just came from a cruise to China. So it would need to be something that said, you were just exposed and be able to have enough information to believe there's a direct threat."

Bonilla says companies have to apply the policy fairly and have to be especially careful to avoid singling out someone who has other conditions that trigger protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued instructions for companies on how to cope with a pandemic and still comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

She says even if there's evidence a worker has been in direct contact with a virus victim, it's questionable whether a boss can send someone home if they do not have symptoms. She says changing directives from experts like the Centers for Disease Control could change what employers can justify.