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Federal Laws that May Protect Employees from Coronavirus Hazards

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Federal Laws that May Protect Employees from Coronavirus Hazards

Businesses across the United States have closed their doors to comply with state-wide closures and mandates.

The Illinois Governor issued a “stay-at-home” order back in March, and it is unclear when it will be lifted. However, some parts of the country are starting to lift restrictive orders, at least for certain businesses.

Businesses have had to respond by laying off workers, cutting back hours significantly, and even shutting down altogether. However, as companies restart operations, some workers may not be comfortable going back to work. Certain federal laws may protect workers who are not comfortable working in their positions if they are not sufficiently safeguarded from the potential spread of COVID-19.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

Many workers are generally familiar with OSHA, which is a federal agency that is designed to help promote the health and safety of the United States workforce. What they may not realize is that OSHA provides rights to workers if they feel that their workplace is unsafe, even before an injury occurs.

In general, employers are required to ensure that their team’s workplace is free from hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. The potential physical harm component has traditionally included viruses and other infectious diseases or risks.

In the context of COVID-19, that typically means that employers should:

  • Follow CDC recommendations regarding social distancing wherever possible
  • Implement the use of masks and other protective gear
  • Permit additional protections and precautions for those in higher-risk categories, such as those with chronic respiratory illnesses, diabetes, or heart disease, and older workers
  • Follow appropriate disinfecting and cleanliness protocols

OSHA regulations state that if an employee “refuses in good faith to expose himself to the dangerous condition, he [will] be protected against subsequent discrimination.” In some situations, that regulation can give you the option to refuse to work in an unsafe environment without fear of termination and to take legal action if the employer retaliates against you for complaining about unsafe work areas.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

Employees who have certain disabilities may be at a higher risk if they are exposed to COVID 19. Examples may include those with diabetes, asthma, heart problems and those with compromised immune systems due to cancer or other medical conditions. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to these employees where possible. This may include working remotely, allowing the employee to work in an area away from other employees and customers, or other reasonable alternatives. The employee should provide a written note from their physician indicating what accommodations may be needed. If the employer denies this request, you should seek out an employment lawyer immediately.

Application of These Federal Laws

The unique circumstances that COVID-19 has created make many people unsure of what an unsafe working environment looks like. It is unclear how or even whether these protections will protect workers in many situations, but it seems like this is the very situation in which these laws should apply.

If you have serious concerns about the safety of your working environment, you may have legal options. The employment lawyers at Goldman & Ehrlich can help. Call today or contact us online, for more information or to set up a consultation: 312-332-6733.

The Extra Layer of Protection Afforded Government Employees

Those who work for the City of Chicago, one of the state’s counties or the State of Illinois itself, may not be aware that they may be subject to the protection of employment laws beyond those that protect those in the private sector. Such employees may be afforded additional protection for employment disputes, wrongful termination, and through the First Amendment protecting their rights to free speech in certain situations. If you work for a government entity and feel you may have been subjected to unfair to discrimination treatment, you should consider discussing your matter with attorneys who have experience in representing government employees, rather than try to fight city hall on your own. We encourage you instead to contact Chicago employment lawyers Goldman & Ehrlich to discuss and get started on your case.

Goldman & Ehrlich has been representing employees employed by the federal, state, county, and city government for over a quarter of a century. With Goldman & Ehrlich, you have direct access to one of our partner attorneys with over 45 years of combined experience. From start to finish, your case is managed by a partner. This assures you the personal attention and experience your case deserves. As a federal employee, Goldman & Ehrlich will be by your side throughout the EEO informal and formal process, and while your case charges may still be heard before an administrative law judge at the EEOC. .You may also have the right to sue in the U.S. District Court.

More and more individuals are beginning to realize and recognize that they can, in fact, fight city hall. When they feel they have been unjustly treated or discriminated against when it comes to their employment, there are proactive steps that can and should be taken. One needs to keep in mind, however, that federal employment law cases often involve rigid timelines and decisive decisions must often be made. Goldman & Ehrlich is here to help.

Goldman & Ehrlich are Chicago employment lawyers with a focus on employment litigation and employment discrimination. We continue to accept clients and pursue cases, even as we work our way through the Covid-19 crisis. To discuss your case and to begin to move forward to a successful conclusion, with social distancing practices to keep you safe and comfortable, contact us today.

Goldman & Ehrlich Is Accepting New Clients Amid COVID-19

COVID-19 has brought about a lot of new changes for everyone, including our legal clients. It is creating environments that many people thought were not possible before the pandemic broke out.

If you are facing a new legal issue, we are here to help. The employment attorneys at Goldman & Ehrlich are accepting new clients despite COVID-19. We can set up telephonic or virtual consultations, and we are well-prepared to address your coronavirus-related issue.

Legal Issues that May Arise Because of COVID-19

Employers are attempting to navigate the odd issues that COVID-19 is bringing up, just like you are. Unfortunately, while some employers may have good intentions, they may actually be violating your rights as an employee when they think they are protecting you or other workers.

Some of the issues that we are seeing come up because of COVID-19 include:


      Job-protected leave of absences. COVID-19 has provided some additional protections for workers who have been affected by COVID-19, have had trouble finding childcare, or have loved ones who may be sick. You might be eligible for additional leaves of absence if COVID-19 has touched you or your family.  The new statute provides protections similar to the FMLA, but covers more employees.

      Health inquiries and testing. Employers may want to take extra steps to ensure that their workforce is not sick before they come to work, such as checking your temperature or having you undergo COVID-19 testing. While some inquiries are fine, an employer may also overstep their limits in some situations, particularly when they violate your rights under other laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Taking temperatures and asking for testing must be applied equally to all employees and that information must be kept confidential.

      Wage and hour problems. You may be entitled to paid sick leave if you have to miss work for COVID related issues. If you are concerned that your employer is not providing you with these benefits, you may want to set up a consultation to discuss your situation further with our team.

Goldman & Ehrlich remains ready, willing, and able to assist you with your employment law issues in Chicago. Give our team of employment attorneys a call to set up a virtual consultation or telephonic review of your situation: 312-332-6733.


Paid Sick Time and Benefits During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Employers and employees in Chicago have questions about their rights and obligations during the coronavirus pandemic.

A recent Chicago Tribune article explains how some laws predating the pandemic will pertain to employers and employees. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also will be applicable to many employers and workers in Illinois.

In terms of new laws, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act will take effect on April 1, 2020.

At that point, employers in Chicago will need to give employers two weeks of paid sick leave. The paid sick leave requirement applies to employers who cannot work due to COVID-19 symptoms. It also applies to employees who cannot work due to stay-home and quarantine orders. Accordingly, an employee who is considered non-essential can be eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave. However, the amount of paid sick leave has a daily cap. Employees will not receive more than $510 per day under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Employers will be compensated for paid sick time on a dollar-per-dollar basis through tax credits. Employers will need to provide paid sick time to furloughed workers, but not to terminated workers.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act only applies to businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

Yet many Cook County businesses must allow employees to use any paid sick time already accrued, and employees in larger businesses in the City of Chicago may be able to use the sick hours they accrued pursuant to City and County of Cook laws.

Employers and employees should understand that a clear distinction exists between being furloughed and being terminated.

Furloughed employees remain employed but are not working due to lack of work. Although those employees will not work during the furlough period and will not be paid, they keep their job-related benefits. To be clear, furloughed employees still have health insurance provided by the employer. However, terminated workers do not keep their benefits. Accordingly, terminated workers will not have healthcare benefits through their employers. Some similarities exist between furloughed and terminated employees. In many cases, both furloughed and terminated employees can seek unemployment insurance benefits. If an employee is furloughed or terminated due to business closures because of the coronavirus, unemployment insurance is an option. However, if a Chicago employee is fired for misconduct, unemployment insurance benefits will not be possible.

As Chicago employment law attorney Arthur R. Ehrlich underscored, “employees should understand their rights and obligations during this unprecedented time.” As Chicago employment law attorney Jonathan Goldman explained, “both federal and state laws may exist to aid employees with paid sick time and other benefits.”

Illinois Employee Files Discrimination Lawsuit

Arthur R. Ehrlich - Chicago Employment Discrimination Lawyer


An Illinois employee recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Danville, according to aWCIA newsreport. The employment discrimination claim also names former city leaders. The employee, a former administrative assistant, alleges discrimination on the basis of race and sex. The city fired the 51-year-old Danville employee, Lisa Robinson, in 2018. Robinson started working for the city in 1994. By the time of her termination, she had worked for the city for more than 20 years. A union arbitrator ordered the city to give her back her job. However, Robinson will still move forward with her discrimination complaint. She recently filed the complaint in federal court.

Robinson’s complaint alleges that the employer denied her access to files on the basis of race and age. She alleges that she faced discrimination in the workplace and that her termination amounted to retaliation. After being subject to workplace discrimination, Robinson reported it to human resources. After making a report, Robinson alleges that her employer retaliated against her before terminating her.

The Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) protects employees from discrimination on the basis of race, age, and many other classifications. The IHRA also prohibits retaliation when an employee exercises his or her IHRA rights. In addition to protections under state law, many federal laws prohibit different forms of employment discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, and other categories. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of age. It provides specific protections for employees and job applications aged 40 and older. Both federal laws also prohibit retaliation.

According toChicago employment discrimination lawyer Arthur R. Ehrlich, “the IHRA provides protections beyond those provided by federal law.” As Ehrlich explained, “whether an employee files a state or federal discrimination claim depends on many factors, including coverage.” For example, the IHRA expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, while federal law may not apply.  The US Supreme Court is now considering that issue. For discrimination because of race or age, an employee is eligible to file a state or federal law claim. Robinson filed a federal claim, specifically citing the ADEA.

In addition to damages and attorney’s fees, Robinson wants the city to institute new policies. Specifically, she wants new policies to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race and age. Robinson also wants the city to appoint an independent monitor to implement and oversee those policies.

Tethered Rights: Liability of American Corporations for Their Foreign Subsidiaries’ Violations of Title VII


Goldman & Ehrlich is pleased to announce that our associate, Sam Sedaei, recently had an article published in the American Bar Association Journal.

Tethered Rights: Liability of American Corporations for Their Foreign Subsidiaries’ Violations of Title VII

Corporations in the free marketplace constantly look for ways to secure advantages over their competitors. As the global economy becomes more integrated, free market competition has led corporations to expand beyond their borders.

  1. As part of this trend, an increasing number of American companies are establishing an international presence through mergers and acquisitions.
  2. Whether the goal is to benefit from cheap labor?
  3. Gain access to talent.
  4. Gain access to new markets.
  5. Isolate risk.
  6. Companies have to navigate international laws in a variety of areas.
  7. An area of the law that is becoming growingly relevant to globalizing companies is employment law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is generally seen among most American employment law practitioners as the most fundamental transformation of employees’ rights in the United States in the twentieth century.
  8. 7 Title VII prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
  9. 8 Since its inception over fifty years ago; Title VII has been amended by the United States Congress a number of times; and interpreted by the courts hundreds of times, in ways that have changed its reach and applicability.

As global commerce continues to intersect with employment law; American courts growingly find themselves in the position of having to decide the global reach of Title VII; and its capacity to protect employees’ rights beyond American borders.

As this article will explain; an American parent corporation may be held liable for the actions of its foreign subsidiary under Title VII if the plaintiff is a U.S. citizen and the American parent controls the foreign subsidiary. The article begins with a discussion of the extraterritoriality of Title VII prior to 1991 through an analysis of the text of the statute and judicial interpretations. It will then analyze the changes made to the statute in 1991; to expand its applicability beyond U.S. borders and the courts’ application of the revised statute to scenarios involving international plaintiffs. The article will conclude by offering a few practice pointers for plaintiffs seeking to enforce their rights outside of the United States; U.S. corporations and their subsidiaries that wish to limit their liability under Title VII; and courts that have to grapple with threshold jurisdictional issues in international Title VII cases.

Here is full access to: Tethered Rights: Liability of American Corporations for Their Foreign Subsidiaries’ Violations of Title VII by Sam Sedaei

Goldman & Ehrlich is a Chicago employment law firm which concentrates on employment litigation and employment discrimination. We represent private employees. As well as, Federal, State, County and Municipal employees. Along with small businesses in Chicago, the surrounding counties and southwestern Michigan. This includes all actions alleging violations of federal and state laws. What sets our Chicago employment lawyers apart is our vast experience and continued practice on both the plaintiff and defendant sides of employment law cases. We have the insight to anticipate the claims. And importantly, we can analyze the tactics from your opponent building your case to withstand arguments against you.

To effectively resolve your employment issues and take preventative action against future claims, call Goldman & Ehrlich at 312.332.6733 today or contact our office online.




Practical Aspects of Discovery in an Administrative Forum

Arthur R. Ehrlich will be speaking at the 37th Annual Federal Sector Labor Relations & Labor Law Conference on September 19, 2019, being held at Chicago-Kent College of Law.  Join top government officials and policymakers, world-class management-side attorneys and union representatives, and leading academics for a focused day of learning about the future of the federal workplace and workforce. Register Now.

Mr. Ehrlich will be speaking on the Practical Aspects of Discovery in an Administrative Forum, along with two government attorneys and an Administrative Judge for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Mr. Ehrlichs’ Practical Aspects of Discovery in an Administrative Forum will highlight:

  • Legal Limits
  • Comparative Employees
  • Areas of Discovery
  • Factors To Consider For Comparatives
  • Other Complaints Against The Same A.D.O.
  • Input And Bias By Recommending Official
  • Good Faith or Sham Investigation
  • Depositions

        Arthur R Ehrlich, partner with the Chicago law firm of  Goldman & Ehrlich, has been representing federal employees for over 30 years in employment law cases, including discrimination and termination hearings. All CLE Training offered by Mr. Ehrlich provides the nationally-recognized guidance required to put complex concepts into practice.

Goldman & Ehrlich is a Chicago employment law firm which concentrates on employment litigation and employment discrimination. They represent private employees, Federal, State, County and Municipal employees and small businesses in Chicago, the surrounding counties and southwestern Michigan in actions alleging violations of federal and state laws regarding:

For more than 30 years, our partner attorneys have effectively represented and counseled employees and small businesses in actions for wrongful discharge and claims alleging violations of Title VII, ADA, ADEA, FMLA, Sarbanes Oxley, USERRA and the Illinois Human Rights Act, as well as various common law actions.

Register for the event here.

Learn more about Arthur R. Ehrlich here.

D.C. Retailer and EEOC Resolve Disability Discrimination Matter

Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, which operates an outlet in Northwest Washington, agreed to pay $100,000 and provide other relief to settle allegations it discriminated against two deaf employee who applied for jobs.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Walmart refused to provide accommodations, such as closed-captioned training videos and sign language interpreters, to two hearing-impaired applicants. In addition to the money, Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P. agreed to revise its employee manual and submit to court supervision. These are standard provisions in EEOC settlements. “This settlement should encourage all employers to provide reasonable accommodations that allow equal access for deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and applicants to engage fully in the workplace,” said Acting Washington Field Office District Director Mindy Weinstein.

“This settlement got our attention not necessarily because of its size, but because it is part of a trend,” observed Chicago employment discrimination lawyer Jonathan C. Goldman.

Earlier this year, Safeway and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas each paid $75,000 to settle similar allegations. In each instance, the employer failed to provide accommodations not for current employees, but for job applicants.  These three cases clearly indicate that the EEOC is aggressively pursuing these matters. So, if you are an employer, now is a very good time to review the accommodations you provide job applicants. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not apply just to hearing impaired people. Other protected classes include:

  • Gender,
  • Age,
  • National origin,
  • Disability,
  • Sexual orientation, a category which probably includes gender identity,
  • Race, and
  • Religion.

Finally, an employers application process, such as filling out forms and taking tests, could be seen as discriminatory for employees with disabilities if they are not offered accommodations that give them an equal opportunity to apply for a position. 

Excluding certain applicants because of their national origin or race is another example of disparate treatment. Refusing to provide a translator may be discriminatory. These cases raise another issue as well, such as what is considered to be a reasonable accommodation? The law requires that the employer provide an accommodation that is reasonable under the circumstances.  This may require an interactive process where the employer and employee discuss what accommodations are needed and what would be reasonable under the facts. If a disabled person’s request is reasonable,  the employer is generally required to provide that request, absent compelling reasons. If the employer must establish that the request is too expensive in proportion to its profits, or would cause undue hardship to its operations

Finally, the Civil Rights Act does not just apply to current employees.

It applies to potential employees as well, in addition to former employees who were terminated when they were not provided with a reasonable accommodation that would have enabled them to perform their job. All these people are entitled to the same accommodations under the law.

To discuss your case contact Goldman & Ehrlich. 

EEOC Commissioner Speaks in Milwaukee

Goldman Ehrlich - Employment Lawyers

For the first time since 2016, Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner Victoria Lipnic addressed the annual Industry Liaison Group meeting, which was held in Wisconsin this year.

Commissioner Lipnic addressed two pressing employment law issues: pay equity and age discrimination. Specifically, Lipnic noted the looming September 30 deadline to comply with the EEO-1. Compliance requires most companies to submit payroll data dating back to 2017. Lipnic noted that such collection “is not in any way easy,” but that is “what a federal judge has ordered.” Lipnic also observed that most Millenials were just a few years away from Age Discrimination Act coverage.

On a final note, during the subsequent Q&A session, Lipnic told federal contractors they should “lead the way in recruiting for populations you traditionally have not gone to before.”

“Both pay discrimination and age discrimination are usually good examples of disparate impact discrimination,” explained Chicago employment discrimination lawyers Arthur R Ehrlich and Jonathan C. Goldman. “Company policies in these areas may appear to be neutral, but if they disproportionately affect a protected classification of workers, they are illegal.”

Companies may not intentionally set out to pay women less than men, but more often than not, there is a significant pay gap. Even if there is no “smoking gun” evidence of discrimination, a legal remedy may be available.

Some companies over-rely on salary history information. They believe there is nothing wrong with using a candidate’s past salary history to set a current salary level. But many women were underpaid due to their gender, whether intentionally or not, in their prior jobs. As a result, their salaries will continue to lag behind their male counterparts, and the disparity increases over time. This is why many states are now making it illegal for an employer to ask an employee about an their prior salary history.

Other companies use job history to set salary, and this calculation could adversely affect women as well. For example, blue-collar workers, like miners, generally earn more than white-collar nonprofessional workers, like clerks, secretaries, or administrative assistants. Blue-collar workers are often male, while many white-collar nonprofessionals are female.

Pay discrimination victims are generally entitled to back pay, reimbursement of legal fees, lost benefits, and other damages, including perhaps damages for emotional distress if they prevail at trial.

Age discrimination cases are sometimes harder to win today than they were in the 1990s. The Supreme Court has ruled that age must be the sole factor, as opposed to only a motivating factor, in the action taken against the employee. For example, the corporation’s decision to terminate or demote an older employee may have been based partly due to age but also based on a performance issue, even if the performance issue was not significant. Under these facts, assuming there was a real, as opposed to a fabricated performance issue, the older worker’s dismissal may not have violated the Age Discrimination Act.

For this reason, the EEOC may not pursue age discrimination claims as often as other actions. But an assertive attorney may still be willing to pursue these claims on the employee’s behalf.

Mining Company and EEOC Resolve Sexual Harassment/Retaliation Lawsuit

Northern Star (Pogo) LLC, an Alaska-based gold mining company, agreed to pay $690,000 and provide other relief to resolve a discrimination and retaliation action. 

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the company refused to promote a woman and instead promoted other, less-qualified male candidates. When Hanna Hurst applied for the promotion and then complained, Northern Star created additional qualifications for her to complete. But the company exempted male employees from these tests. In addition to paying money, Northern Star must adhere to a long-term consent agreement that will insure equal opportunities for promotion for females.

“Gender bias continues to be a problem in today’s workplace, certainly no less in those industries traditionally dominated by men,” said EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko. “We commend Northern Star as the new successor company for demonstrating its commitment to see such discrimination doesn’t continue under its leadership.”

“Sexual harassment and retaliation are some of the most common employment discrimination claims in Illinois,” observed Chicago employment discrimination lawyers Arthur R Ehrlich and Jonathan C. Goldman. “These problems are extremely widespread, and they are also relatively easy to prove in court.”

Substantive sexual harassment cases can sometimes be complex, they cautioned. There are two types of sexual harassment claims in Illinois:

  • Quid Pro Quo: It is illegal to condition any employment-related decision on any sexual favor. This happens more often than many people believe but is often done in a subtle manner. A female employee should be careful when her boss asks if they can discuss some matter at lunch or dinner when no other employees are present.”
  • Hostile Environment: This occurs when there is a severe and pervasive pattern of unwelcome sexual or gender comments or acts.  A single joke or off-color remark does not constitutes sexual harassment. The conduct must be frequent enough to adversely affect a reasonable person or make it difficult for the employee to perform her normal job duties.

A  single-episode of a sexual assault or an extremely aggressive attempt at a sexual overture may be sufficient. 

Repeated touching to the point where it is clearly not accidental may also be enough, especially when inappropriate jokes are common. The employer’s failure to investigate a complaint or take action to stop harassment by co-workers will strengthen a sexual harassment case.  A failure to conduct an adequate and diligent investigations happens all too frequently, especially in mining, construction, and other male-dominated industries. Post-complaint investigations must be done immediately, and should be comprehensive, and transparent. 

Statistically, the EEOC usually handles more retaliation claims than anything else. This includes retaliation for making a complaint for sexual harassment.

Retaliation occurs when an employer punishes an employee who participated in a protected activity. Protected activities include the following:

  • Filing a complaint or serving as a witness in an employment discrimination claim,
  • Lodging an informal discrimination complaint,
  • Resisting sexual advances or other discriminatory conduct,
  • Intervening to help others in these situations, and
  • Refusing to follow discriminatory orders.

Even if the underlying complaint of discrimination does not prove that the law was violated, an employee is still protected from retaliation as long as the complaint was made in good faith. Contact Goldman & Ehrlich to discuss your discrimination case today.