PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Portland law firm that represents employees is providing free resources that explain employees’ rights in the Rose City and across the state during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
HKM Employment Attorneys’ Portland branch said they are offering the services in response to widespread business closures as well as a rapidly changing legal landscape as federal, state, and city ordinances are being passed in an emergency response to the pandemic.
“What really employees need now is they need jobs and money. We couldn’t give them that, but really one thing we could give them was information. We’re a law firm that only represents employees. We know an incredible amount about their rights and protections…we want to do our part. It’s not much, but it’s the least we could,” HKM Managing Partner Dan Kalish told KOIN 6 News.
The law firm is providing the following services for free related to employees’ rights amid COVID-19 outbreak:
- A free online resource with answers to frequently asked questions.
- A dedicated email where the public can ask legal experts questions directly, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- A hotline where people can leave their questions in a voice message and a legal expert will call them back with a response: 503-506-6263.
- A roundtable discussion with legal experts conducted over the phone, which kicks off Friday, March 27. People can sign up for the roundtable by filling out a form on the firm’s website, hkm.com/portland/coronavirus.
Following an executive “Stay-at-home” order Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued Monday, many businesses deemed “non-essential” were required to shutter their doors. In such a situation, it can be difficult to navigate what rights an employee is granted or not.
KOIN 6 News asked Kalish about some common questions employers might have about their rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Does a workplace have to tell employees if one of their coworkers tests positive for COVID-19?
“I don’t know of now of any specific rule or law that requires that. I do think that if that did occur, and they didn’t mention it to people, they could possibly be at risk of some type of negligence claim or some type of obligation. But there’s no existing statute or rule that requires that at this point,” Kalish said.
He also noted that employers are legally obligated to not give out personal information about their employees for confidentiality requirements, including if they test positive for the novel coronavirus.
“They could say, somebody who you have been in contact with in the workplace has tested positive for COVID-19. But they are not supposed to say, without the person’s permission, who that person is,” Kalish said.
Your rights as an employee working from home
Kalish said one issue that crops up a lot for employees is whether they are obligated to buy equipment to work from home if they are directed to do so by their employer.
“If an employee has to pay to buy a new computer or an employee has to buy headphones or headset or some kind of software, etc., and that lowers their amount of pay to below minimum wage, for example, that would be an issue that I think employees have to realize they have a right for. Or if it would lower your pay to what they contractually agreed upon, that’s an issue, too.”
Kasich explained that one of the most popular questions he receives is about whether or not an employee must physically go into work if they don’t want to.
If they are part of a non-essential workplace, a worker would not have to go into work if their employer wanted them to. This includes things like shopping malls, theaters and gyms.
For those businesses considered essential, such as certain establishments that provide groceries or emergency services, like some medical facilities, workers would still be obligated to report to the work site if their employer asked them to.
However, Kalish said that if someone is immunocompromised and working at an “essential business,” they may qualify for having a disability.
“If they have a disability, they may be able to get a reasonable accommodation. That reasonable accommodation could likely be, in most circumstances, the ability to work from home.”
Kasich added that he recommends workers check the firm’s online resource page daily for the most up-to-date information on workers’ rights.
“We try to put the most important, new updates, at the very top to give a sense of what’s new going on. But the framework is changing daily. I’ve never seen the speed of such legislation and executive orders that affect employees’ rights and we’re keeping on top of that.”
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