Philadelphia late last month because the first U.S. city to enact an ordinance that protects employees from retaliation based on COVID-19-related whistleblowing.
The Employee Protections in Connection with COVID-19 Emergency Health Order law went into effect June 26 and bars all employers in Philadelphia from taking adverse action against employees who “believe there is a violation of a COVID-19 public health order at work,” according to a release from the city.
Applying to all employers in Philadelphia, the ordinance defines adverse actions as:
- Loss of benefits
- Loss of responsibilities
Notably, the ordinance also protects employees from retaliation if they refuse to return to work because they feel the workplace is in violation of public health orders related to the coronavirus.
Still, that portion of the ordinance is not a catchall for an employee who does not want to come to work. Employees can’t refuse to work if:
- Employers are making reasonable accommodations for the worker’s environment
- Workplace is compliant upon an inspection from city health officials
The city has provided outlets for employees to report suspected violations of the city’s coronavirus-related requirements.
For violating employers, Philadelphia’s Department of Labor has the ability to levy fines, force the company to issue backpay and assess compensatory damages.
Philadelphia and COVID-19
As with many jurisdictions across the country, Philadelphia has several measures in place aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 and creating requirements for employers.
Its Reopening With Care provisions has taken a phased approach, with the latest move into the Green phase of reopening.
On the same date the Employee Protections in Connection with COVID-19 Emergency Health Order law went into effect, the city allowed outdoor zoos, salons, barbershops and spas to reopen. Walk-up service at restaurants and food trucks has been allowed since June 5.
Starting July 3, Philadelphia permitted more business types to reopen, including:
- Indoor malls
- Museums and libraries
- Outdoor group recreational activities
- Outdoor performances and small outdoor events (up to 50 people)
- Schools and colleges
- Gyms and indoor exercise classes
Of course, there are extensive guidelines employers must follow when reopening. These include the often-found social distancing, sanitizing, mask-wearing, physical berries, etc. Find more information on the city’s website.
As the U.S. continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen a spate of new laws and regulations enacted. Many, of course, are related to paid leave and rules for reopening economies.
But as we move forward with these new regulations, jurisdictions could impose additional employee protections, especially once the inevitable challenges arise in the courts.
Employers, especially those with locations in several jurisdictions, should be sure to review local laws and guidelines to remain compliant in the fast-moving employment law environment of COVID-19.