Minnesota Eases Stay-at-Home Restrictions, Ensures Workplace Safety Protections
May 14, 2020
On Wednesday, May 13, 2020, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed a series of executive orders designed to ease coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions, open more Minnesota non-critical businesses, and protect workers from unsafe working conditions and from retaliation for reporting such conditions. If you are being forced to work in an unhealthy or unsafe work environment, or you are facing discrimination or retaliation for reporting unsafe working conditions, contact our Minnesota employment attorneys to understand your rights.
Employers Have a Duty to Protect the Health and Safety of Workers
Under Executive Order 20-56, Minnesota non-critical businesses that choose to open are required to establish and implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan in their workplaces that meets Minnesota OSHA Standards and Minnesota Department of Health and CDC Guidelines. Employer plan requirements can be found on the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s website. At a minimum, the employer plan must address the following areas:
- Require work from home whenever possible
- Ensure that sick workers stay home and include health screenings
- Ensure social distancing
- Establish worker hygiene and source control
- Set forth cleaning disinfection, and ventilation protocol
The employer plan must be provided in writing to all workers and posted in the employer’s workplace in a location that will allow for it to be easily viewed by all workers and/or posted electronically. The employer must ensure that training is provided to workers on the contents of its plan. Employers failing to adhere to Minnesota OSHA Standards and MDH and CDC Guidelines, including social distancing and hygiene practices, may be subject to citations, civil penalties or closures. Further, employers may be penalized if they retaliate against employees who raise safety and health concerns.
Employees Are Protected from Retaliation for Reporting Health and Safety Violations
Executive Order 20-54 notes, “workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety for economic security.” Employees being forced to work in unsafe conditions should report safety and health concerns to their employer or a state of federal agency such as the Minnesota OSHA.
Several state and federal laws protect workers from discrimination and retaliation for reporting unsafe work conditions. As stated under this Order, employee protections include, but are not limited to the following:
- Protection from discrimination or retaliation in any way for communicating orally or in writing with management about occupational safety or health matters related to COVID-19, including asking questions or expressing concerns.
- Protection from discrimination or retaliation against workers for wearing gloves, cloth face covering, eye protection or other protective gear with the worker has personally procured and reasonably believes will protect them, their coworkers or the public against COVID-19, provided that the personally procured gear does not violate industry standards or existing employer policies.
- The right to refuse to work under conditions that the employee believes, in good faith, to present imminent danger of death or serious physical harm, including a reasonable belief they have been assigned to work in an unsafe manner with an infectious agent such as COVID-19. Employers must not discriminate or retaliate in any way against an employee for a good faith refusal to perform assigned tasks if the worker has asked the employer to correct the hazardous conditions but the remain uncorrected; such situations should be reported to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (MN-DOL) immediately.
- The right to request the MN-DOL conduct an inspection if they believe there is a violation of safety or health standards that threatens physical harm or that an imminent danger exists; employers must not discriminate or retaliate against a worker because that worker has required an inspection.
- An employee who quits because the employer has refused or failed to correct an adverse work conduction related to COVID-19 which would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit, if the worker has complained to the employer and given them a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse condition, may be eligible for unemployment. This may include the failure of an employer to develop a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.
An employee who quits because the employer has refused or failed to correct an adverse work conduction related to COVID-19 which would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit, if the worker has complained to the employer and given them a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse condition, may be eligible for unemployment. This may include the failure of an employer to develop a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.
Reasonable Accommodations Must Be Provided to Employees with Disabilities When Possible
Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation related to COVID-19 to qualified employees with disabilities. This includes employees with health conditions who are at high risk, as determined by relevant guidelines from the CDC or Minnesota Department of Health, if they are exposed to or contract COVID-19. As stated in Executive Order 20-54, reasonable accommodations related to COVID-19 may include, adjusting schedules or workstations, allowing employees to work from home or permitting use of leave. If you were denied a reasonable accommodation for reasons related to COVID-19, contact us now to understand your rights.
In addition, if you are a frontline worker and/or have contracted COVID-19 while on the job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation and protected from retaliation if you assert your rights. Our attorneys are experienced in helping clients protect their rights for retaliation related to workplace illness. Read more about coronavirus and workers’ compensation retaliation.
Contact Our COVID-19 Lawyers and Coronavirus Employment Law Firm
During these uncertain times, you want support and guidance to ensure your employment rights are protected. Our attorneys at Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP are committed to bringing you strategic, informed, and results-driven advocacy to help you pursue unlawful discrimination, retaliation and harassment. If you were fired for reasons related to COVID-19, contact us today for a free initial consultation.