Order adds employee protection as businesses reopen

Posted at 10:42 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 08:10:37-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Gov. Jared Polis' safer-at-home executive order contains numerous protections for employees to prevent job discrimination as businesses reopen across Colorado.

First and foremost, those who are the most at risk for serious complications or death from exposure to COVID-19 are exempt from having to return to work under the order. That group includes people over the age of 65, those with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, pregnant women, those with serious heart conditions, and people with compromised immune symptoms.

"Merely saying that these people can't be compelled to perform in person work is a pretty big step in protecting a lot of this population who I think otherwise may feel like they need to return to work for fear of losing their job," said employment attorney Ian Kalmanowitz.

He recently shared a news letter with his colleagues discussing many of the employment protections in the order. For example, employers must make reasonable accommodations for people who live with someone in the high risk group.

"It's clear to me as somebody who specializes in protecting employees or employers that this provides more protection than existed Saturday before this order went into effect," Kalmanowitz said.

He points out that a COVID-19 diagnosis can be treated like a disability, meaning those who recover from the virus can't lose their job simply for being sick. Likewise, the Safer at Home order prevents employers from discriminating against employees who've simply been in contact with a known positive case.

"That is something that we've been hearing about in my practice and I've been hearing about from my colleagues is employees who are being told stay home because we found out your father-in-law has COVID-19 and then they lose their job," Kalmanowitz said..

In Colorado, unlike some other states reopening this week, employees do not risk losing unemployment benefits for refusing to return to work if they can prove there is an unsafe working condition due to the risk of COVID-19 exposure.

Kalmanowitiz said the meat--packing plants in Northern Colorado where multiple employees have died from COVID-19 are good example of a situation where an employee would be protected from losing benefits. Another example are nursing home employees who work in a facility that has widespread infections.

"If you are an employee of a nursing home and there has been an outbreak in a nursing home and you have a fear of returning to work because of a safety issue, what this executive order will do is at the very least is offer you the benefit of continued unemployment," he said.

He encourages people with concerns about their particular employment to reach out to his firm, Cornish and Dell'Olio, the Colorado Bar Association or other employment lawyers to discuss those circumstances in greater detail.

"A lot of these issues are issues that can be resolved without resort to the legal system," Kalmanowitz said. "It's just that some people don't know what the law is or what their rights are because of how quickly this is changing."

As part of the order, Governor Polis directed the Colorado Civil Rights Division to work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to provide guidance for employers to prevent workplace discrimination related to COVID-19. That guidance is still being developed but should be widely distributed soon.

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