Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Rachel Arnow-Richman (Florida) has just posted on SSRN a pair of timely articles related to the pandemic: Temporary Termination: A Layoff Law Blueprint for the COVID Era (forthcoming ABA JLEL) , and Is There An Individual Right to Remote Work? A Private Law Analysis (forthcoming Wash. U. J. L. & Pub. Policy). Here are the abstracts:
Remote Work: One of the gnawing legal questions of the COVID-19 pandemic is the status of remote work. Since the expiration of the first round of government shut-down orders in the summer of 2020, companies have been calling workers back to the job, prompting serious concerns about the risk of workplace transmission. As a consequence, many workers have asked to continue the remote arrangements their employers adopted when forced to close under executive orders. Some employers are acceding to these requests; others are not. This brief essay, prepared for the ABA Journal on Labor & Employment Law, considers this problem from a private law perspective. It concludes that public law offers little protection to individual employees other than those with qualifying disabilities. Companies, however, may be in breach of contract if they terminate employees who have enforceable job security rights for refusing to return to in- person work. Rather than rely on guesswork, the prudent and compassionate choice for employers is to continue temporary remote arrangements to the extent feasible.
Temporary Termination: This paper, prepared for a forthcoming Washington University of Saint Louis symposium on COVID-19, responds to the pandemic-induced unemployment crisis with a strategy for addressing temporary, economic-based terminations. Workplace regulation has long neglected workers separated for economic reasons, leaving the problem to the social welfare system, which is now overwhelmed by record numbers of unemployment applicants. In prior articles, I have drawn on comparative law models to argue for laws requiring employers to provide mandatory advance notice of termination or commensurate severance pay to laid off workers. Building on that work, and drawing specifically on Canadian law, this paper argues for recognizing “temporary separation” as a distinct legal status that confers individual rights to affected employees within the context of a comprehensive law of layoffs. Under this system, all employees terminated for economic reasons would be entitled to advance notice or its equivalent in severance pay. However, employers could suspend such obligations by classifying workers as temporarily separated. Affected individuals would retain their status as employees, obtain fast-track access to unemployment benefits, and enjoy a right to reinstatement when their jobs resume. Should the employer choose not to recall a temporarily separated worker, or if the lack of work becomes permanent, the employer would be required to fulfill its deferred severance obligation.