Workers Have Rights to a Safe and Healthy Workplace During COVID-19 Pandemic

June 10, 2020 8:45 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of North Dakota
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NORTH DAKOTA — While no one wants to be furloughed or unemployed indefinitely, recent surveys show that Americans have mixed feelings about returning to work right now.

In fact, 2 out of 3 people aren’t comfortable about going back to their workplace as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers – a finding that spans all generations of workers, according to a recent survey by Qualtrics.

But with bills to pay, more and more North Dakotans are headed back to work at companies that should be following North Dakota’s Smart Restart protocols. But it’s easy to understand if workers don’t feel safe on the job because of COVID-19 – especially in high-contact business sectors or if protocols aren’t being followed properly.

No one should be forced to choose between going to an unsafe workplace or staying at home and potentially losing their job. That’s why the ACLU of North Dakota has teamed up with the North Dakota ALF-CIO to ensure that workers know their rights when it comes to working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In general, employers are obligated to take reasonable precautions to ensure a safe environment for their employees. But what does that mean exactly? Are employers required to take all precautions to prevent harm to employees in the workplace, including harm from a disease like COVID-19?

“When it comes to COVID-19, you may have a right to refuse to work if you can show there is a serious risk of exposure to the virus, and your employer failed to remedy the problem,” said Landis Larson, North Dakota AFL-CIO president. “Your employer is obligated to maintain a safe environment for you to work in. If you feel like you are at risk of exposure and don’t know how to address the problem, we want to know. You have the right to work without fear of retaliation by properly reporting unsafe conditions.”

Still, almost all workers in North Dakota are at-will employees, meaning an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason without incurring legal liability. That’s why it’s so important for workers to know their rights and to document and report a formal complaint to OSHA.

“The workplace can be intimidating, and it may seem as if the boss holds all the cards,” said Dane DeKrey, advocacy director for the ACLU of North Dakota. “But you have the right to a healthy and safe workplace with adequate protections against infection and the spread of COVID-19. The ACLU is committed to protecting basic rights of employees in the workplace, and has a long history promoting those rights through legislation, litigation and public advocacy.”

The ACLU of North Dakota and the AFL-CIO have created and will be distributing Know Your Rights information to workers throughout the state. A copy of the Know Your Rights information is attached.

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