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Top 15 Employment Law Questions Regarding the COVID -19 Virus[1]


Question #1: My company placed me on a furlough. What does that mean?

Answer: You are still an employee of the company, but you are essentially on inactive status.

Question #2: Can I collect unemployment benefits if I am placed on a furlough?

Answer: Yes, if you are on a furlough for longer than a week, you should be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. You can fill out an application with the DUA, the Division of Unemployment Assistance.

Question #3: As an employer, how much advance notice do I have to give my employees and what is the cap on a furlough?

Answer: A company does not have to give any advance notice to place employees on a furlough and there is no time limit to keep employees on a furlough.

Question #4: What is the difference between a lay-off and a furlough and how does that impact my ability to collect unemployment benefits?

Answer: If an employee is laid off, it typically means that the company has no plans to re-hire the employee, whereas a furlough implies that the employee is on inactive status but will be recalled to service. However, to some extent it is only semantics because an employee on furlough can also be eligible for unemployment benefits and a laid off employee can be re-hired just as easily as an employee on furlough getting called back to service.

Question #5: My employer reduced my hours. Can I collect unemployment benefits?

Answer: Yes, but only if there was a significant reduction in your hours. Unfortunately, the law does not specify what is meant by the term ‘significant reduction’.

Question #6: Can my company force me to work from home?

Answer: Yes. If the company determines that it is too risky to have employees work in the office, the company can mandate that employees work remotely.

Question #7: Can my company force me to work in the office?

Answer: Unclear. Unfortunately, it depends on the circumstances. For example, a nurse who has been trained to deal with diseases such as COVID-19 refuses to come to work the hospital would be justified in taking action against the nurse. But if the nurse had a respiratory illness, that would likely constitute a good faith basis to stay home. So, it comes down to context and reasonableness, and companies and employees may have different opinions on what is reasonable. It is also important to keep abreast of the news as the government may implement a quarantine that sheds more light on this difficult issue.

Question #8: Can a company force an employee to cancel vacation plans because the employee is needed at work?

Answer: Yes. Unless you have a specific contract that states otherwise, companies do have this right.

Question #9: As an hourly employee, am I entitled to be paid if my company tells me not to report to work?

Answer: No, hourly employees who do not perform any work are not entitled to be paid, but the government may be passing legislation to help American workers.

Question #10: As a salaried, exempt employee, am I entitled to be paid?

Answer: Yes, if you perform any work at all, you are entitled to your full salary. However, if you are ordered to not perform any work for an entire week, then the company does not have an obligation to pay your salary.

Question #11: If I am sick or taking care of a family member who is sick, do I get paid sick time?

Answer: Companies with 11 or more employees have to pay employees sick time, which accrues at the rate of 1 hour for every 30 hours worked for up to a total of 40 hours.

Question #12: My company is using volunteers to help out during this crisis. Is that okay?

Answer: While there are some exceptions for non-profits, companies may have an obligation to pay a volunteer the minimum wage. The law is designed to ensure that companies do not take advantage of volunteers, even volunteers who are trying to help out in times of crisis.

Question #13: My company is asking me questions about my health. What about HIPAA and my privacy rights?

Answer: Massachusetts law (Chapter 151B) and federal law (the ADA) prohibit companies from making inquiries into an employee’s health, but there are exceptions. If the company believes that you may have COVID-19 because you are exhibiting symptoms, the company can decide that you represent a risk and/or threat to the health and safety of your colleagues and ask you questions.

Question #14: Can my company force me to wear a face mask? Alternatively, can my company tell me that I am not allowed to wear a face mask?

Answer: If you work in the health care industry, an employer can require an employee to wear a face mask. Some employers may be allowed to instruct employees to not wear a face mask, but this will vary in a case-by-case scenario. This may depend on OSHA regulations.

Question #15: What should companies or employees do if they are faced with an issue that is not covered by the company’s employee handbook?

Answer: Contact an employment law specialist as soon as possible.


[1] Please note that the information above is based upon information presently known but employees and employers need to recognize that the CDC and WHO will inevitably be providing updates and local, state and federal government may implement legislative changes. This publication should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion and is for general information purposes only.

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