Back To Work: Do I Need To Disclose COVID-19 Symptoms?

Three experts weigh in on disclosing COVID-19 symptoms and whether employees have to return to an office as more states reopen for business.
Posted at 3:40 PM, May 15, 2020

As more statesreopen for business, we wanted to explore what rights employees have when they're asked to go back to work. So we asked three questions to three experts. 

Question 1: Do I have to tell my employer if I exhibit COVID-19 symptoms?

Richard Roth, labor attorney, The Roth Law Firm: "You don't have an obligation to tell your employer if you exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. It would be a good thing to do civilly and ethically." 

Alexia Fernández Campbell, workers rights reporter, The Center for Public Integrity: "It's personal health information, just like you don't have to tell them if you have cancer or anything like that."

Question 2: If I've been working from home and my productivity is the same as working in the office, can my company require I go back to the office?

Fernández Campbell: "Companies do not have to let employees work from home or telework if they want them to return to the office. … They can demand you come to work, and if you don't, they can fire you."

Debbie Berkowitz, worker safety and health program director, the National Employment Law Project: "The CDC has issued reallyclear guidance, and employers can choose to follow it or not. …  And CDC is recommending that employers make sure that all workers are six feet apart in the workplace, and one way to do that is to let employees telework, if that's possible."

And lastly, if someone I work with gets ill from COVID-19, how will I know? Are companies obligated by law to let employees know their co-worker has COVID-19?

Roth: "So unfortunately, companies are not obligated to tell employees that there are other employees that have COVID. And similarly, if you're an employee, you're not obligated to tell people you work with you have COVID-19. … The problem with that, though, is that if you're an employee and you have COVID-19 and you don't tell people, because it's so easily contractible, it could very well wipe out your business." 

Fernández Campbell: "There's no law that requires them to tell that … Employment laws are so outdated that there are just not enough protections for workers in a situation like this because a situation like this has never really happened." 

Cat Sandoval, Newsy, Chicago