Feel unsafe at work during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here are your rights

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Many essential business workers are reaching out to ABC11 concerned for their safety in the workplace due to COVID-19 fears. They want to know their rights if they don't feel safe on the job.

A worker at a medical supply manufacturing company in RTP reached out to ABC11 with concerns. In an effort to keep the worker's identity anonymous to prevent retaliation, ABC11 will not reveal the identity of the worker.

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"We worked side by side, shoulder to shoulder. We don't have any gloves, and the only time I saw a face mask is when they gave a face mask to the person that was sick, everyone else is still walking around getting the germs," the worker said.

They continued working for a few weeks but decided to take paid time off, saying they did not feel safe on the job.

"I don't want to take the chance of going in there every day and being exposed to the sickness and bringing it back home to my family," the worker said.

Matt Harbin, an attorney with the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, said while OSHA does provide guidelines for certain high-risk jobs like in the medical field, for other workers in the grocery or retail industry, where there is interaction with others, there isn't much protection.

"If your employer says we don't want to provide these protections and we want you to come to work in this scenario, there wouldn't necessarily be a right to sue your employer for wrongful termination," Harbin said.

He said it's best if you try and work with your employer and talk to them about your safety concerns and see if anything can be done.

A representative with the North Carolina Department of Labor, said the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Division has received 40 complaints concerning COVID-19 and will conduct investigations. They add that workers need to keep in mind there is currently no occupational safety and health standard concerning COVID-19, but pursuant to the OSHA of North Carolina, it is the employer's duty to provide each employee with a "place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious injury or serious physical harm to his employees."

Attorney Harbin said some workers with underlying medical conditions may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Also, look into the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which took effect April 1, as some workers may qualify for paid leave under that act. If you feel you need to be off the job due to medical concerns related to COVID-19, you need to talk to your doctor.

"You would need a doctor who would say you need to isolate or you're at risk, you should avoid your work," Harbin said.

When it comes to employment in NC, it's an employment-at-will state, meaning employers can fire workers 'at-will' for just about any reason except for discrimination against a protected class.

Workers who feel they are being exposed to hazards on the job may file a complaint with the (OSH) Division by filing a complaint with the NC Department of Labor.
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