Reps' bill aims to protect vulnerable employees during pandemic

State Reps. Dave Rogers (D-Cambridge) and Jay Livingstone (D-Boston) have filed a bill to protect vulnerable employees during a public-health or -safety emergency in the context of employment.

Dave RogersRogers

The bill, titled "An Act Relative to Protections for Vulnerable Employees During a Public Health or Safety Emergency," would make it unlawful for all employers to take action against any vulnerable employee who requests or uses a reasonable accommodation, such as more frequent breaks for hand washing, modification of seating to facilitate social distancing in the workplace or work-from-home options.

Under this bill, vulnerable employees would have the ability to request a reasonable accommodation from their employer during a public health or safety emergency and up to six months after the end of the emergency.

This legislation would prohibit all employers from denying an employment opportunity to a vulnerable employee who requests that certain health and safety standards are met to allow them to safely work at their jobs. Employers would also be prohibited from requiring the employee to accept an accommodation that is unreasonable or unnecessary.

“As we reopen the Commonwealth for business, one of the most pressing concerns is how best to protect workers who are vulnerable to the virus due to pre-existing health conditions,” Rogers said in a May 21 news release. “Unfortunately, current state and federal law do not provide adequate protection, necessitating timely action to do right by our friends and neighbors who will be returning to work. This legislation will provide critically important legal protections so that we can move the economy forward while still protecting the most vulnerable among us.”

Livingston added: “The terms under which people return to work should not just be dictated by employers. This bill provides the opportunity for the most vulnerable and their families to also have a say. As the workforce starts to return, we have to make sure that there are protections to accommodate everyone and this bill would create those safeguards.”

Vulnerable employees, as defined in this bill, include those:

  • With serious underlying health conditions, such as chronic lung disease, diabetes or any other medical condition that may put an individual at high risk of infection during a public health emergency;
  • With compromised immune systems; and
  • Who are members of high-risk populations as defined by the Centers for Disease Control; or who live in the same household as a person with an underlying health condition that puts them at a higher risk for infection.

This news announcement was published Tuesday, May 26, 2020.