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Afraid to return to work? What experts say businesses and employees should consider

"Businesses have a legal obligation to create a safe working environment for their employees. If they don't, they can be sued."

PHOENIX — A recent Arizona State University poll showed 26% of Arizonans feel ready to return to the office as phased reopening continues, but what if you don't feel safe at work because of the virus?

"You better be ready with the mitigation measures when you do open because people are going to be looking for that," Dr. Will Humble with the Arizona Public Health Association said. 

Positive COVID-19 cases keep rising as Arizona gets back to business. 

According to Arizona's Department of Public Health, there are currently more than 14,000 positive cases in the state as of Monday. According to CovidExitStrategy.org, that's a 28% increase in cases over the two-week trend of the virus. 

"Businesses have a legal obligation to create a safe working environment for their employees. If they don't, they can be sued," Kimbell Dean Parker, president of SixFifty, said. 

SixFifty specializes in the streamlining of the often-complicated areas of law and technology. 

Parker said if an employee feels unsafe, they can sue through state or federal law. 

"If an employer doesn't take reasonable steps to protect their employees from COVID-19 and an employee gets infected at the office, then the business can be liable," said Parker.  

"The best thing you can do is reduce the chance of anyone getting sick on your premises," said Court Rich with Healthy Verify Certification

Rich works for Healthy Verify Certification, developing individualized plans for businesses to reduce the chances of diseases spreading at work.

HVC considers things like business type, size and location and the number of employees and recently worked with Goodwill in Arizona as they reopen. 

Rich said the best way for businesses to protect themselves from lawsuits is asking those safety questions.

"How often are you cleaning this surface, what are you cleaning it with, what are you wearing to work, are you getting your temperature taken when you walk in the door," said Rich.  

Experts warn both businesses and employees to keep in mind despite reopening the country remains under a global pandemic. 

Beyond the economics, the focus should be on public health. If an employee doesn't feel safe, they should speak up. 

"If conditions are inappropriate for a vulnerable individual at their work, they should just say no. Their life is more important," said Senior Lecturer Al Brown. 

Arizona is an "employment-at-will state," which means an employee can be fired for no reason or any reason unless it's discriminatory. 

Experts say employers have a responsibility to protect their workers and workers can refuse to work under the law if it's unsafe. 

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