In a matter of weeks, TATE BYWATER has observed that the United States’ landscape has changed drastically. Many businesses are shuttered. People don’t gather for lunch or dinner in restaurants or head out for Happy Hour on Friday afternoons. The stock market is tumbling on a daily basis. Fear amongst citizens who would otherwise not react in such ways has prompted hoarding activities, and fights have broken out in some places as tempers flare.
There are a lot of legal questions that have arisen as well. At Tate Bywater Law, we want to make sure we do everything in our power to set your legal concerns to rest. We’re a part of your community, too, and we’ve had to make some changes in our practice to maintain the safety of our employees as well. Here, we’ll answer some of these pressing questions.
- Will the Coronavirus lead to martial law?
As states have begun to request assistance from the National Guard, many have become concerned about the possibility of martial law being declared. As of Tuesday, March 16, 22 states have requested assistance from more than 1,500 National Guard members, and those numbers are likely to increase. Involvement of the National Guard is not, however, the same as martial law.
Martial law is the replacement of civil rule with temporary military authority in a time of crisis. Its imposition is rare, but it has happened in the United States in the past. However, as California Governor Gavin Newsom put it, “If you want to establish a framework of martial law, which is ultimate authority and enforcement, we have the capacity to do that, but we are not feeling at this moment that is a necessity.”
This seems to be the general feeling at the moment. While some panic has occurred, and certainly in some areas the Coronavirus’ spread is deeply concerning, we are a long way from martial law being imposed in order to keep the peace. So far, our civil servants seem to be doing it just fine.
- My employer has instituted strict new policies about sending people home. Do they have the right to do this?
In many places, employers can ask employees to work from home, and that’s the best case scenario for any place that can manage it. For the places that can’t, strict regulations must be in place to ensure the health and safety not only of employees, but of their families and loved ones, as well as the general public.
The Virginia Occupational Health and Safety plan (VOSH) has adopted the guidance of the CDC in advising employers of what to do around the workplace to keep everyone safe and minimize contagion. These include:
- Actively encouraging sick employees to stay home
- Separating sick employees from other employees and sending them home immediately
- Emphasizing the importance of staying home when sick
- Performing routine environmental cleaning and sanitizing
- Advising employees to take certain steps before traveling
- Conducting risk assessments for employees who feel well but report a sick relative at home
All of these measures are put in place to try to limit the outbreak of an illness that is deadly for some, can carry huge health implications for many, and is extremely contagious and very easily spread from person to person. That being said, measures like requiring temperature checks may be overstepping. You can always contact us at Tate Bywater Law if you have any concerns about these measures.
- My employer has asked me to travel to a place that has a big outbreak. Can I refuse?
Normally the answer would be that we are living in an at-will employment state, and your refusal may be grounds for termination due to refusal to do your job. These are, however, uncertain times. If your boss is asking you to fly to Seattle to do some client hand-holding because of a business concern, they are still within their right to do so. Authorities have not restricted travel to and from these places, and your refusal may be seen as an unreasonable fear.
But if you have a mental health concern such as anxiety, that may become triggered by such an action (and render you unavailable for client hand-holding), or are immune-suppressed, you may just want to level with your employer and let them know that you have health issues that you believe may be compromised by this kind of travel. VOSH states that employees may raise a reasonable concern about their health and safety without worrying about retaliation. With the country under emergency orders and a spreading pandemic, the definition of reasonable is shifting.
In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. If travel is a concern for you, and you have a medical reason behind it, you may be able to talk your boss into doing an extended conference call instead.
As always, Tate Bywater Law is here for your legal concerns. If you are worried about anything related to the Coronavirus or have any other legal questions, please feel free to contact us.