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Worried about COVID-19 at work? Here's what you can do as restrictions are modified in Arizona

An Arizona State University law professor explains what workers can do if they have concerns about safety and health on the job amid the coronavirus pandemic.

PHOENIX — Arizonans are preparing to go back to work as coronavirus restrictions are modified. Some might be concerned about returning to busy workplaces and the possible spread of the virus.  

The sense of normalcy is an invited thought as Governor Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order is extended until May 15. 

Arizona's employment rate jumped to 5.5 percent at the end of March as jobless claims flooded in after restrictions were put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Many people are itching to go back to work despite the looming viral threat health officials say is still very real.   

Michael Selmi, law professor at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, says the legal options are "limited" for those who walk off the job due to concerns about unhealthy work conditions related to coronavirus. 

"The legal options could be quite limited, actually, unless there's clear evidence of a dangerous workplace, imminent harm. An employee who is afraid to go back to work, refuses to go back to work, may not have any obvious remedies," Selmi said. 

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The employee may not be eligible for unemployment insurance in these situations, because generally, jobless benefits are for situations the employee cannot control.  

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said at a news conference Wednesday that he is working with legislators to help protect people that may be scared to return to work. He said these benefits are a safety net, not meant to be punitive.

Ducey said Arizona will be "flexible" in these scenarios.

Selmi says employees have the option of filing a complaint with Arizona's Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA before they leave the job. He says this way a complaint is on file, however, investigations into complaints can take some time to be completed. 

"My advice to employees would certainly be file a complaint with OSHA  before they took any other actions. They should not leave the workplace without taking that step, because that should get them protection and it might get them reinstated if they were terminated," Selmi explained.

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An employee is encouraged to reach out to their employer with their concerns. The CDC has provided businesses with safety and health guidelines as they begin to look to reopen. With guidelines in place, the employee could have a better case legally, but still could be looking at a drawn-out process.  

If you get sick on the job from coronavirus you will most likely be eligible for workers' compensation while you are sick, Selmi added. 

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