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Advice on contagious (or litigious) workers in the post-COVID workplace

Jeffrey Schlossberg.

Jeffrey Schlossberg. Credit: James T. Madore

It took a pandemic to convince employees not to show up to work when sick – one of the few welcome changes brought on by COVID-19, experts said Tuesday.

The pandemic has raised people’s awareness of how disease is spread and the need to protect yourself and your co-workers, even if means less pay or missed deadlines.

"My hope is this culture shift really survives COVID. … That sick people don’t come to work," said Domenique Camacho Moran, a partner at the Farrell Fritz law firm in Uniondale who represents employers.

"Remember the days [before the pandemic] when people were hacking up a lung and coming in because ‘I’m so important, I cannot not be here,’ " she said during an event organized by the Long Island Association business group. "Work from home. Do not come to work and spread your germs, whether they are COVID germs, flu germs or whatever other kind of germs you have."

Paid time off for vaccination

Moran was among four attorneys and human resources executives who participated in an hourlong discussion about the post COVID-19 workplace before the LIA’s small and mid-sized business committee. The virtual event was moderated by committee co-chair Katherine Heaviside, president of Epoch 5 Public Relations in Huntington village.

Responding to question from Heaviside, Moran said employers are required under state law to provide employees with up to four hours of paid leave for COVID vaccinations. If two shots are required, the leave is a total of up to eight hours.

Under federal law, Moran said, employers can receive a payroll tax credit for the cost of vaccination-related paid leave for employees.

Asked if their companies are requiring vaccinations, both Lynda Nicolino, general counsel at Bethpage Federal Credit Union, and Donna Raab, chief talent officer at the insurer SterlingRisk in Woodbury, said employees are "being encouraged" but not forced to get shots.

'Neutral' strategy

"You don’t want to create a culture where if an employee doesn’t get vaccinated, they have issues with their co-workers," Nicolino said, adding Bethpage has 34 branch offices and 750 employees. "We’ve been pretty neutral and just providing factual information to our employees."

That’s a wise strategy given the potential for employee lawsuits over alleged discrimination or termination because of COVID, said attorney Jeffrey Schlossberg, a principal on Long Island of the Jackson Lewis law firm.

Since the pandemic started a year ago, there have been 132 virus employment suits filed in New York State "with the largest number being discrimination claims," he said. "Working from home is one of the biggest issues. … Bringing employees back into the office can seem retaliatory to those who worked from home productively for a year and are worried about returning to the office."

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