As President Trump urges states and companies to go back to work and cheers on protesters demanding a reopening of the economy, his administration is privately predicting a deeply worsening spread of COVID-19 and subsequent deaths.
The troubling projections have daily deaths jumping to 3,000 per day by June 1, nearly doubling the current rate of 1,750 deaths per day. The projections are based on modeling pulled together by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The projections indicate that new cases could go up to about 200,000 a day from the daily count of 25,000 today. The New York Times reported that the reopening of the economy is likely to make matters much worse.
This is troubling news for employees who want to go back to work and for employers who are liable for the safety of their workers. Such sobering numbers could make many people hesitant to return to work, and it's hard to blame them.
At the same time, this news presents a dilemma for employers – follow the president's lead and reopen businesses, potentially exposing many more people to a deadly disease, or continue to keep physical locations closed and either allow teleworking or maintain furloughs and layoffs.
It seems reckless that the Trump administration would be cajoling governors and others to “get back to business” as they crunch numbers that tell a different story. This move also seems to remove any semblance of “cover” from liability for employers. The administration knows how bad things are likely to get but is still pushing for a rapid reopening of the economy.
Employees also have a dilemma. If your employer reopens and calls you back to work, can you insist on being able to work from home (if your job can be performed remotely)? The answer is likely no if your employer requires your physical presence on the job, though there may be exceptions for those with existing disabilities. Here's a Q&A covering the issues around returning to work.
If you can't work remotely, or if your employer refuses to let you work remotely, are you abandoning your job by refusing to go in? Likely yes if you do not qualify for paid leave or extended FMLA leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Here is more information you should know about FFCRA.
This is a very tough situation for people to find themselves in as they try to cover their living expenses and care for their families. There is likely no blanket answer to the problems employees will face – situations vary greatly by industry and job, but if you have further questions or concerns about this new development and would like to speak with an attorney about your situation, our team of knowledgeable attorneys will be happy to talk with you.