Teacher Health Concerns Over Returning to School this Fall

As many schools decide to resume in-person classes this fall, teachers may worry not only about the health implications of a possibly pre-mature opening for their students, but also for themselves. Teachers recognize the student motivation, participation, internet access and mental health implications of online classes, but they may still have concerns about the uptick in COVID-19 cases around the country.

Teachers are faced with two daunting choices: 1) return to work and receive a paycheck, yet possibly endanger their health and the health of their spouses, children, parents, and other loved ones, or 2) stay home from work and risk losing their jobs, an income source, and their health insurance.  District, state, and federal officials have issued a litany of statements urging teachers and students to return to in-person learning as soon as possible, but poor guidance from state and district administrators leaves teachers with several reservations, especially given that 30 percent of teachers in the U.S. are over the age of 50.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and the State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon issued a broad recovery plan in June 2020 that provides a baseline for how Maryland schools should begin to re-open. In July 2020, a group of educational advocates in Maryland urged Maryland leaders to issue a statewide declaration to keep schools online for at least one semester. Delaying school openings, they argued, would reduce potential transmissions and allow education officials extra time to plan for a safe return. The parent group of Montgomery Country teacher unions, the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), also voiced in July that maintaining six feet of space will be difficult, if not impossible, in places like school buses and crowded classrooms.

Under the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act (MHWFA), certain employees are eligible for paid sick leave (unpaid for employers with less than 15 workers) to care for themselves or for a family member. Please visit this link to learn more about MHWFA.

Teachers in Washington D.C. as well can help protect themselves and their loved ones:

  • D.C. employees who are in a high-risk group and are concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 at work may use up to 16 weeks of unpaid, job-protected “COVID-19” leave for one of the following reasons: care for self, family or household member, or childcare closure. Employees requesting this type of leave must have a health care provider’s order to quarantine or isolate.
  • DC employers are also required to provide eligible employees with up to two weeks of “public health emergency leave” at full pay for any reason for which paid leave is available under the federal “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” (FFCRA).
  • DC employers must provide all employees with a mask, and all employees are required to wear a mask.
  • It is illegal for a DC employer to retaliate against an employee if they test positive for COVID-19, refuse to serve or work with a person who refuses to wear a mask, or complain that their employer is not enforcing the mask requirement.

Teachers can also seek leave under federal provisions, as outlined in the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” (referenced above) and the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.”

If you have concerns about how your employer is implementing COVID-19 safety regulations or questions about the leave to which you are entitled, please contact us today.  Our team is dedicated to holding employers accountable and helping employees determine their rights under applicable laws.