Legal expert offers advice to workers during coronavirus pandemic

Attorney James Poindexter says it’s important to know your company’s leave policy and keep your health a top priority

VIDEO: Many workers may be wondering what their rights are amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Government officials, schools and companies are all taking the coronavirus pandemic one day at a time.

As COVID-19 cases increase daily, officials are urging social distancing and limiting group interactions to help slow the spread. In response, some companies are allowing employees to work from home. While for others, it’s not feasible.

With some employees are wondering what their rights are in a situation like this, News4Jax on Wednesday spoke with a legal expert who said the best advice he can give to people right now is to know your company’s leave policy and keep your health a top priority.

“If they do feel that they are becoming ill or anything like that, it is important to engage in a conversation with their employer, figure out what their leave policy is," said attorney James Poindexter. "A lot of employees -- salaried and employees and salaried employees -- can have paid time off, whether it is a sick leave or vacation, but that is up to their employer’s policy. There is no blanket law that prescribes a certain amount of paid, sick or vacation leave the employee can take.”

Martia Holloway is a teacher at a local private school. Over the weekend, Holloway said, her employer sent her something that took her by surprise: a waiver and release of liability form ahead of training at the school.

“The waiver said that if we got COVID-19 commuting to and from work or on the job in their facility, using their tools, they would not be held liable,” she said.

Holloway also told News4Jax state the waiver said if the employee chooses to opt-out, they will not be paid for the week. For Holloway, she said that the issue wasn’t going to work but how the school handled the situation.

“I felt like the bigger picture was that in a national crisis why am I -- my hand is being forced,” she said. “She introduced it to use as an option, but the option was taken away once it said sign the waiver or not be paid.”

Since Holloway is an “at-will” employee, there’s not much she can do about what she described as an uncomfortable situation.

Poindexter said at the end of the day, people need to abide by their employer’s policies when it comes to leave.

“If they are concerned about the safety in the workplace, they should feel like they can bring those concerns to their employer’s attention without fearing reprisal or anything like that," Poindexter said.

Holloway said she isn’t the only one who refused to sign the liability form. But since she can’t afford to be without pay, she is actively interviewing for new teaching jobs in the area.

About the Author:

Florida-born multi-media journalist pays special attention to issues in St. Johns County.