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What workers and employers should know as Missouri businesses reopen

As businesses reopen, people from all sides of the workforce wonder what their rights are. Attorneys are fielding those questions

ST. LOUIS — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said businesses and social activities will begin a slow return to normal May 4, issuing guidelines that largely require 6 feet of social distancing.

RELATED: Missouri Gov. Parson announces details on phase one of state's reopening

RELATED: Some Franklin County businesses will be allowed to reopen this weekend

As businesses reopen, people from all sides of the workforce wonder what their rights are in this constantly-changing environment. Attorneys are fielding those questions.

"As an employer, I would just say you are not alone," attorney Amy Blaisdell -- Partner and Board of Directors Member at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale -- said. "Almost a nine out of 10 calls I receive a day -- I would say -- are employers struggling with these very issues, so we’re not gonna make perfect decisions under the circumstances that we are in. We are just trying to make the best decisions for everyone."

Blaisdell said employers should being to develop a plan on how to return to business. She said they could consider bringing employees back in shifts, rather than all at once. They should consider how to spread employees out and whether they will provide PPE or expect employees to bring their own masks and gloves to work.

"You have under federal law the right to a safe workplace, and the OSHA regulations are still in place regarding safety in the workplace," attorney Ben Westhoff said.

Westhoff said workers "should expect the employer to provide safety equipment and the proper protective safety equipment." 

If an employee feels they've been ordered to work in unsafe circumstances, that person should first address that concern with their employer -- "preferably in writing," Westhoff advises -- but OSHA is a final recourse should conditions not improve.

Anyone currently collecting Missouri unemployment benefits will lose those if they are called back to work but decline the offer, Westoff said, though the Family First Coronavirus Response Act could provide some financial relief and paid time off under certain circumstances.

When businesses do reopen, both Westhoff and Blaisdell agree that employees can expect health screenings at the start of a shift.

"We have seen the EEOC has come out now and said COVID-19 is a direct threat and requiring a test is not in violation of anybody’s rights," Blaisdell said. "Things that we might think, 'oh I’m not sure if I could do that today...' it’s very likely that we will see standards being relaxed as we move forward to try to get people back to work."

Blaisdell said employers should monitor guidelines and requirements from various agencies and outlets as new standards are released.

"What is true today may not be true next Monday. Employers really do —unfortunately — have to stay on top of new guidance that is coming out daily from the CDC, the EEOC, OSHA, Department of Labor, state and local health authorities," Blaisdell said.

During a Monday press conference, Parson said local officials can set their own regulations and ordinances, as long as they are consistent with the statewide order.

Blaisdell's firm is holding a seminar for employers at 11 a.m. Monday, May 4, the day the governor's new order goes into effect. For more information, click here.

For more information, watch the interview with Westhoff below:

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