Action News Troubleshooters: Know your employee rights before heading back to work

No matter what industry or field you're in, nearly every employee's life has changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Troubleshooters are getting questions related to furloughs, health concerns, childcare issues, unemployment and more.

"We were just told that the business was going to close," said Siobhan Smith of Morrisville, Pennsylvania.

That was at the beginning of the pandemic.

Now, like many other workers, Smith is being called back, but she isn't comfortable returning to her position in retail sales.

"I'm involved in a lot of groups that represent the business that I work in and many of the employers are discussing safety measures. However, my employers have not discussed any," she said.

So question number one: Can my employer force me to return to work even if I have health or safety concerns?

Governor Tom Wolf says no. His office put out a release Monday stating, "County residents receiving unemployment compensation will be able to continue to receive benefits even if their employer reopens. Employees may choose not to return out of concern for personal safety and safety of co-workers."

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At a time when delays are devastating for so many families, the Troubleshooters are getting many complaints about long delays in unemployment and the inability to get answers.

But employment attorneys have advice if you decide to go that route.

"I think an employee in that situation is better off to get a medical certification, get a doctor's note," explained Michael Torchia of Semanoff, Ormsby, Greenberg and Torchia, LLC.

Smith also had a question about working remotely since she believes a few of her colleagues will be allowed to do that.

"It seems like well that's nice that they can sit home leisurely while I'm grinding away physically, taking care of everything," she said.

"If you have childcare issues, you have rights under the federal statute," said Torchia.

But Torchia warned despite your rights under the law or as directed by the governor, if you don't return to work when your employer demands, you may face negative consequences.

"If you are directed to go back to work by your employer and you just say 'I don't feel comfortable going back to work', they can take action against you, he said. "They can continue to furlough you or lay you off, they could even take disciplinary action against you or they could even let you go. "

Question number 2: My employer or business has received federal relief money. Does that mean they have to rehire me?

"And the answer is no. That does not mean that they are required to bring back all the employees," said Torchia.

Question three: I'm making more money on unemployment than I would if I return to my job. Can I stay on unemployment?

It is a conversation to have with your employer but your employer could let you go if you decide not to return and then your unemployment benefits would likely get cut off.

"So it's very risky for an employee to refuse to go back to work if there's a job waiting for them," said Torchia.


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