Law firm offers free advice for workers as Colorado economy slowly reopens

As workplaces around Colorado slowly reopen or prepare to do so, workers are contemplating questions around their safety, unemployment claims and more.

Seattle-based Lawfirm HKM Employment Attorneys last month launched pro bono hotlines and email accounts to answer employment law questions from workers in each of the 13 cities in which it has an office, including Denver.

Here are some of the top questions HKM has been fielding from workers in Colorado lately, according to the firm’s managing partner, Daniel Kalish.

My workplace is reopening. Do I have to go to work? If I say no and lose my job, can I still qualify for unemployment?

“If your employer has reopened, they need workers and they invite you back, there a possibility absolutely that they could fire you if you refuse and you could lose your rights to unemployment,” Kalish said Wednesday.

At Gov. Jared Polis’s direction, the state labor department crafted emergency rules allowing people who are vulnerable to the novel coronavirus to remain on unemployment even if their workplace reopens.

Even without the new rules, compromised immune systems and diseases like diabetes are disabilities and employees have the right to request a “reasonable accommodation” from their employer such as a work-from-home arrangement, Kalish said.

The case law around workers who left jobs because someone they live with is vulnerable to illness is more complicated, Kalish said.

My employer has received a Paycheck Protection Program loan and is calling me back to work. Can I stay on unemployment?

“Again, I would be very cautious for an employee not to go back to a job they are eligible for,” Kalish said.

He said employees who believe their employer may be trying to cheat the PPP loan program by bringing back workers they don’t need could contact the U.S. Small Business Administration with their concerns but that carries its own set of risks.

I am back at work and people in my workplace are not adhering to health guidelines. What can I do about it?

Workers have limited options for dealing with this, according to HKM’s analysis.

“One thing they could do is talk to their employers,” Kalish said. “In very severe circumstances, it could be an issue to report to (the Occupational Saftey and Health Administration).”

HKM has a list of frequently asked questions available on its Denver-specific coronavirus website, hkm.com/denver/coronavirus. To ask the firm a specific question, call 303-816-3164 or email [email protected]

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