Called back to work and don't want to go because of COVID-19? Here are your options

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Don't get too used to that home office because most who are working from home now will eventually be asked to return to the workplace.

But will we be forced to do that despite fears of COVID-19?

"We're gonna all work together to make sure that our economy can get going," Governor Roy Cooper said Monday. "But we want to do it in a safe way and we don't want to put any employee in a risky situation."

But one expert in workplace rules said right now there are no guidelines.

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"There are no real restrictions or requirements for what employers have to do to keep their employees safe," labor law attorney Cate Edwards told ABC11.

But Edwards said employees concerned about contracting the virus by returning to the workplace may have some options.

That's especially true if the worker is older or has a medical condition like heart disease, diabetes or asthma that makes COVID-19 even more deadly.

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"Then you should ask your employer for additional protections. If you're called back to work under those circumstances, it could be considered a disability," the Raleigh attorney said.

And if anyone in your family, including you, has or is believed to have the virus, there are specific exceptions in the new federal Family First Coronavirus Response Act.

"You have additional leave available to you. And that is job protected leave meaning that your job cannot be taken from you for taking that leave," she said.

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And what if your reason for not being able to return to work isn't fear at all but lack of childcare?

That's also covered under the Family First Act with up to twelve weeks of paid leave.

"And families who have two parents working for example one parent could take leave now and another could reserve that leave for when the other parent has to go back to work," Edwards said.

Congress has also extended unemployment benefits but not if you refuse to return to work.

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Edwards said, however that it's up to the states to enforce those rules and so far North Carolina hasn't issued guidance on that situation.

If you do decide to go back to work and then find the conditions in your workplace aren't safe, Edwards says you should report it to state and federal occupational safety and health officials.

"So that OSHA can conduct an investigation and make any changes that need to be made. And you also are protected from retaliation."

Edwards and the governor believe most employers will do the right thing.

"Generally employers have been pretty good working with employees," Cooper said at the Monday briefing.

But, with so much grey area right now in policy and regulations, Edwards said she won't be surprised to see lawsuits between workers and employers once the courts reopen.

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