Wyatt Employment Law Report


Can An Employee Refuse to Wear a Mask?

By Michelle D. Wyrick

In its Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) confirmed that, during a pandemic, an employer may require employees to wear personal protective equipment that is designed to reduce the transmission of infection, including face masks or gloves.  As businesses reopen, many employers are requiring employees to wear masks.  And some state and local governments are requiring or recommending that masks be worn in public.  So what can an employer do if an employee refuses to wear a mask? Continue reading


What If My Employees Don’t Want To Return To Work?

Michelle D. Wyrick and Joseph Profancik, a 2020 Summer Associate

As the country sets its sights on reopening the economy, many Americans are understandably hesitant to return to work. Although most states claim that COVID-19 has seen its peak, the number of daily infections reminds us that the virus is still looming all across the nation. Nevertheless, states such as Florida and Tennessee, with numerous states following in their footsteps, have significantly loosened their restrictions and allowed businesses to open their doors once again. As businesses reopen, they will likely face some of the following questions from some employees who are hesitant to return to work.

What if My Employees Don’t Want to Return to Work Because They Make More Money on Unemployment?

In response to the bleeding economy, Congress recently prescribed the CARES Act, which, among other things, allocates an additional $600 per week to unemployment recipients. In many cases, Americans are currently bringing in more money while on unemployment than if they were working. As a result, some Americans may be incentivized not return to work. In fact, the Department of Labor anticipated such a response and reminded states that they have the obligation to detect waste and fraud in the unemployment insurance system. Many states, including Tennessee, have set up websites for employers to report employees who refuse to return to work.

But can an employee actually refuse to return to work despite the reopening? As an initial matter, the Department of Labor has stated that refusing to return to work, solely because a claimant is taking in more money while unemployed, is not a qualifying refusal. In order to receive unemployment benefits, an individual must be willing and able to work, so a refusal such as this could result in the termination of benefits.

What if My Employees Are Afraid to Return to Work?

Nevertheless, if an employee is afraid to return to work because they fear exposure to COVID-19, the employee may still qualify for unemployment benefits, depending on the circumstances. Kentucky, like several other states, has determined that individuals who leave work “due to a reasonable risk of exposure to infection (self-quarantine) or to care for a family member affected by the virus” have good cause for not working. Likewise, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the “OSH Act”) protects an employee from discriminatory action if the employee in good faith refuses to work under conditions that he reasonably fears will subject him to serious injury or death where he has no other recourse. To be clear, the OSH Act does not give an employee an unqualified right not to return to work. It does, however, prohibit an employer from treating the employee less favorably than similarly situated employees. Whether an individual continues to be eligible for unemployment benefits if she claims she can’t return to work because of risk of exposure to the coronavirus likely depends on the measures an employer has taken to make the workplace safe, including complying with OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 and the Centers for Disease Control’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019, and what accommodations have been offered to the employee to reduce the risk of exposure. Kentucky has indicated that if an employer provides reasonable accommodations for employees at their workplace or offers an option to telecommute, the employee must work if it is offered by the employer.

An employee may not simply choose to continue to collect unemployment benefits once he has been called back to work. However, if an employee expresses fear of returning to work because of potential exposure to COVID-19, it will be important for employers to ensure that they have taken appropriate steps to protect employees’ safety as recommended by current guidance and that they have considered the availability of reasonable accommodations under the circumstances.


The Supreme Court of Kentucky Issues Guidance Regarding Upcoming Trials

By Marianna J. Michael

Shortly after releasing its guidelines for reopening courts in the Commonwealth, the Supreme Court of Kentucky provided further guidance in regards to upcoming trials. The Order builds in time for courts to prioritize criminal proceedings that have been delayed as a result of COVID-19. As such, the Order makes the following provisions: Continue reading


A Practical Guide to Employee Temperature Screening

Michelle D. Wyrick and Lilian Williams

As businesses begin the first stages of reopening or increasing employee capacity, many have implemented or intend to implement temperature screening procedures. Some businesses are required to screen employee temperatures as a precondition to open under state or local law, as seen in Kentucky, while other businesses look to screen employee temperatures as a precautionary measure. Continue reading


Judicial Branch Task Forces Reveal Re-Opening Guidelines

By Marianna Michael

After convening three task forces to determine what measures to take to gradually resume in-person court services, the Supreme Court released its reopening plan on May 15, 2020. The Court’s goal is to implement a limited, phased reopening to allow access to the courts while keeping court personnel and the public safe through social distancing and other precautions.

Starting June 1, 2020, the Court will implement the following measures:
Continue reading


PPP Forgiveness Application Published

By Christopher R. Hanewald

After weeks of anticipation, the Paycheck Protection Program’s (PPP) Loan Forgiveness Application has been issued by the Small Business Association (SBA) and Treasury Department. Borrowers—and their accountants—will begin to work through the 11-page application and instructions to determine what proportion of their PPP loan will be converted to a tax-free grant. Unfortunately, similar to the initial confusion and frustration surrounding the roll-out and loan application process for the PPP in early April, the application for forgiveness is anything but simple. Continue reading


EEOC Questions and Answers for Reopening Employers

By Julie Laemmle Watts

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) continues to update its guidance for employers in its “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws” questions and answers on a host of topics, including topics that are important for employers who are beginning the process of reopening. Some of these topics include: Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Exams; Confidentiality of Medical Examination; Reasonable Accommodation; and Return to Work. Continue reading