We talked to Cindy Ettingoff, a Memphis-based labor and employment law expert who has represented workers, companies and unions. The CEO and general counsel at Memphis Area Legal Services addresses concerns about going back to work.
What if I have to go back to work but the daycare provider hasn’t reopened?
If you work for an employer with 50–500 employees, you can apply for the Emergency Family Medical Leave Act, which pays about two-thirds of your wages. If your employer has fewer than 50 employees and [is] willing to work with you, that’s great. If not, you’re out of luck and you’re not eligible for EFMLA or the Family Medical Leave Act.
As for unemployment? You can apply. It’s not clear whether you’d be eligible. Under Tennessee law, you must be able and willing to work. So you can’t turn down the job. Remember, child care is not the employer’s responsibility.
If I quit because I can’t find daycare, will I be eligible for unemployment benefits?
You can apply. It’s not clear whether you’d be eligible. Under Tennessee law, you must be able and willing to work. So you can’t turn down the job. Remember, child care is not the employer’s responsibility.
What should I do if I can’t social distance at work?
[Neither workers nor employers can] stop anyone willing to work under those conditions.If you have a union, workers can enlist the help of the union in addressing safety concerns. Perhaps temperature checks at the door could be instituted or everybody gets new face masks. Workers could be rotated out and fewer people could be on the line or shift. Whatever you do, workers need to address these issues with the company as a collective voice.
I have a medical condition that puts me at greater risk if I catch the coronavirus. What should I do?
Talk to your doctor. If he or she says safety precautions at your job aren’t adequate, let your employer know. Your employer may then allow you to work from home. Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which mandates companies to provide a safe workplace, you can probably get your employer to provide a laptop or other types of accommodations.
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy, Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the American Journalism Project, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and Community Change.