LEGAL CORNER: What are employees’ rights when their company is considered essential?

Updated: Mar. 24, 2020 at 11:55 AM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - What are your rights as an employee if you are working in an industry considered to be essential during the state’s COVID-19 shutdown?

Mark Judson, with the Southwest Louisiana Law Center, said the first thing employees should do is look at the employment manual or handbook.

“See if there are any written guidelines for being an essential worker,” Judson said.

Judson addressed what rights employees have if they may not want to go to work - whether it’s for health reasons, childcare issues, etc. - during the pandemic.

“In a grocery store situation, or in a daycare situation, there may not be any classification for this sort of thing," Judson said. “And if there’s not, then you just have to look on past persistent and general common sense."

In a legal sense, the employer has the right to do some sort of discipline to the employee, such as not paying the employee or even termination, but Judson said that is just the legal aspect.

“In a practical matter, the employer needs the employee in most situations," Judson said. “The employee should just try and reach out to the employer. If you have a good relationship then hopefully you can reach out a suitable arrangement where the employee can attend to whatever they need to tend to and make up the time later or create a substitute."

Judson also answered questions surrounding whether or not employees are entitled to paid time off during the pandemic.

“Those are HR type questions that are usually governed by an HR employment manual,” Judson said. “You have to start with the question: Is there an employee manual and are there any kind of contractual obligations from the employer to the employee?”

Judson said Louisiana is an at-will employment state.

“This means unless there’s a written agreement otherwise the employer can terminate the employee at any time for any reason as long as it’s not an illegal reason such as discrimination,” Judson said. “And the employee is free to quit, they don’t have to give a one month notice or a two-week notice.”

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