Businesses are reopening. If you're older or sick, what happens to your job?

Laurence Darmiento, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

In response to Ripke's concerns, a district spokesperson said LAUSD is working with various agencies with a goal to "provide employees, including those with COVID-19 vulnerabilities, every opportunity possible to continue to work."

There are other options for workers like Ripke, but they are not necessarily ideal. One would be using personal leave time -- something Ripke fears she may be forced to do. But with the pandemic not expected to vanish for a long time that would be only a temporary solution.

Employers also may assign such workers to safer jobs. While that's a possibility in large corporations or school districts, it may not be an option at small businesses, where a worker could just be be out of luck.

"At some point it just may be that the person is eligible for retirement or disability retirement but that's it. The employer would have fulfilled its duties under the ADA. Employers do not have to indefinitely keep anybody on leave," said Sharon Rennert, senior attorney advisor in the EEOC's ADA division. "Basically it's going to be termination."

Or workers might just leave or retire of their own accord whether vulnerable or not, something that employers in essential businesses where interaction with public is a core part of their job have already experienced.

"I know we have had some associates that have not come back to work and they probably just do that out of self-preservation," said John Votava, director of corporate affairs at Ralphs, the supermarket chain, which has remained open throughout the pandemic.


Departing the workplace, however, is unlikely to be an option desired by most older or medically vulnerable workers, who either need the money or enjoy their jobs.

Attorney Wendy Musell, past president of the California Employment Lawyers Assn., a trade group of attorneys that represent employees, said the pandemic is likely to present novel cases involving workers who feel their health is being put at risk -- but also those who don't want any special treatment.

"There are older workers and individuals with disabilities who want to come to work," she said. "If the employee says, 'You know what. I can wear a mask. I can be in my office. This is not an issue,' and the employer says, 'We are not going to allow you to go to work,' I think there are going to be some interesting cases."

Stella agreed, noting there is a potential for "no good deed goes unpunished: for being too protective for certain employees and then having those employees saying, 'Well wait a minute. This isn't just. You are treating me differently because of my age or because of my medical condition.'"


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