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Five Considerations for Employers Who Hear “I’m Afraid to Return to Work”

Many companies have been requesting that remote workers return to the office. There are many employees who want to continue teleworking. Employers need to carefully evaluate each request.

Talk With the Employee

Employers need to talk with the employee to figure out why they want to telework. Some of the common reasons are as follows:

  • Diagnosis of COVID-19;
  • Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Child or senior care obligations;
  • Membership in a vulnerable population;
  • Member of household in a vulnerable population; or
  • Employee has sought a religious or medical exemption from getting the vaccine and cannot be around other employees.

Develop a Policy

Employers should develop a policy to review requests to continue teleworking. It is important that each request be reviewed on its own merits. In some cases, these could be a request for a reasonable accommodation based on a disability. In such cases, the employer should determine the reason for the employee’s fear and, if necessary, begin the interactive accommodation process. The employee may also qualify for a religious accommodation from the vaccine that could also include working from home.

The Past Does Not Dictate the Future

Simply because an employer implemented remote work at some point during the pandemic does not mean the employer is required to allow employees to continue working from home indefinitely. Circumstances have changed significantly, and they continue to change every day.

Employees with Household Members Part of a Vulnerable Population

There is no requirement under the ADA that employers provide accommodations to employees with family members who are at higher risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19.

An Arizona employee, however, may qualify for paid leave under Arizona paid sick time law. For example, the employee may be feeling anxious and depressed about the possibility of returning to work, especially if doing so may jeopardize the health of a vulnerable family member. Anxiety and depression can be a qualifying reason for taking leave under the Arizona paid sick time law.

An employee may also qualify for FMLA leave if their family member has a “serious health condition.”

Don’t Terminate an Employee Without Getting Good Legal Advice.

Employers need to know and understand many Arizona and federal laws before deciding whether they may legally terminate an employee who refuses to return to work. Those laws are as follows:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Family Medical Leave Act
  • Arizona’s Employment Protection Act
  • National Labor Relations Act
  • Arizona’s Paid Sick Time Law

These laws are nuanced, and employers should fully understand their obligations and potential liability under each before terminating an employee seeking to telework.

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