COVID-19 and Returning to Work: Frequently Asked Questions

As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, employers and employees alike have numerous questions about what can and cannot be done with respect to returning to work.  

Here are three frequently asked questions that have been answered according to current workplace regulations established by agencies such as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (as of July 15). 

Can employers require employees to go to work?

It depends.  The key question here is what phase of reopening the state or county is currently in, and whether the business is deemed essential or not? If the business is permitted by local or state ordinances to open, then in many instances, an employer can require employees to return to work. It is important to stay informed on current local and state news for the latest updates on business closures.

If there is a direct threat of COVID-19 contamination in the workplace, it may be unlawful of an employer to force employees to return to work.  (OSHA) states that an employee can refuse to return to work in the event of immediate or imminent danger. If there is no evidence of exposure or not all employees were or are impacted, an employer may require employees to return to work. 

Can masks be required in the workplace?

Generally yes. For the most part, employers have the right to require employees to wear a mask, especially if the wearing of masks is mandated by federal, state, or local government agencies.  Face coverings are also highly recommended by OSHA has a protective measure against spreading COVID-19.   It is important to note, however, that depending on the work performed by an employee, and an employee’s own medical or health conditions, wearing a mask may not be recommended for the employee’s own safety. 

If employees or employers are unsure if masks are a recommendation or a requirement in their particular state  or local jurisdiction, this table lists each state’s current protocols as of July 15. 

Is an employer permitted to take their employees’ temperature?

Generally, yes in this COVID-19 environment. Typically it is against the law for an employer to take an employee’s temperature, but during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EEOC has issued guidance allowing employers to take employees’ temperatures as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19. This is because the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged the community spread of COVID-19 and issued attendant precautions.

You will find more information regarding employer temperature checks and other EEO laws here

You can visit Angela’s recent blog for more information regarding OSHA guidelines for businesses returning to work. She also discusses working parents’ concerns regarding childcare as the 2020 school year quickly approaches. 

Experienced Employment Law Attorney, Mediator, Arbitrator, Investigator, Legal and Media Commentator 

Angela Reddock-Wright is an employment and labor law attorney, mediator, arbitrator, and workplace/Title IX investigator in Los Angeles, CA. Known as the “Workplace Guru,” Angela is an influencer and leading authority on employment, workplace/HR, Title IX, hazing, and bullying issues.

Angela is a regular legal and media commentator and analyst and has appeared on such media outlets as Law and Crime with Brian Ross, Court TV, CNN, ABC, CBS, KTLA-5, the Black News Channel, Fox Soul – The Black Report, NPR, KPCC, Airtalk-89.3, KJLH Front Page with Dominique DiPrima, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, People Magazine, Essence Magazine, the Los Angeles Sentinel, LA Focus, Our Weekly and the Wave Newspapers.

Angela also is a member of the panel of distinguished mediators and arbitrators with Judicate West, a California company that represents the gold standard in dispute resolution. She also owns her own law firm, the Reddock Law Group of Los Angeles, specializing in workplace and Title IX discrimination, harassment, and sexual assault investigations.

For more information regarding resources for employers, businesses and employees during this time, connect with Angela on LinkedIn for new updates, or contact her here


This communication is not legal advice. It is educational only. For legal advice, consult with an experienced employment law attorney in your state or city.