Mayor of Thurmont John Kinnaird said he heard from about 20 employees of NVR, the manufacturing facility, that they felt unsafe going into work due to fear of the coronavirus, two weeks ago.
Since then, he’s done everything he could to help. He reached out to Congressman Jamie Raskin. He reached out to Frederick County Health Officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer.
But at the end of the day, NVR falls into an “essential business” category — construction — and are therefore allowed to stay open during the statewide stay-at-home order.
Employees, according to Kinnaird, said that with over 300 employees working each shift, they felt unsafe going into work for fear of contracting the coronavirus or unknowingly spreading it. NVR’s employees travel from a range of places to get to work, including parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Kristy Eriksson, principal and co-leader of the Labor, Employment, Benefits & Immigration Practice Group at Miles & Stockbridge, said that under the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employees of essential businesses are not granted special time off for avoiding work due to a general coronavirus fear.
“Unfortunately, that’s the situation that we’re all in right now, everybody is afraid and everybody is at risk for going out, and so that doesn’t set you apart and give you a reason to take leave or probably not even to collect unemployment,” Eriksson said.
However, if that employee has an underlying condition or has been asked to self-quarantine by a healthcare professional, they are entitled to paid leave.
That paid leave is in addition to the employee’s paid time off, and will be reimbursed to the employer by the government through a payroll tax credit, Eriksson said.
Additionally, employers with more than 500 employees are not subject to the FFCRA.
Kinnaird received a letter from the company outlining what they are doing to keep their workers safe during the pandemic, and noted that they are offering unpaid leave but not firing any workers for choosing to stay home. Kinnaird sent the information to The Frederick News-Post.
The company is also staggering arrival times, break times and departures; encouraging employees who can work from home to do so; and eliminated and reduced common employee areas and “choke points” throughout the facility.
Denise Jacoby, the executive officer of the Frederick County Building Industry Association, said that there is a concern among construction workers county-wide about going into work, but that employers are doing all they can to keep them safe.
“We’ve slowed everything down, and the reason you slow things down is to accommodate fewer people at the same time on the job site, that’s very important,” Jacoby said.
Jacoby also said that only one trade is allowed on a site at a time to limit the amount of people working at once. And all workers are recommended to stay six feet away from each other.
Eriksson said that there are no federal mandates yet in place for what employers have to do to keep their workers safe specifically from the coronavirus, but that the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires all employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees.
Eriksson’s clients have had numerous questions about what the FFCRA means for their businesses. While she did her best to parce the 125-page act into a webinar that could answer their questions, she knows that things are likely to change again within the upcoming weeks.
“If you think about what it looked like now as opposed to what everything looked like three weeks ago, could I say, what are we going to be looking at three weeks from now? Who even knows,” Eriksson said. “So we’re just trying to keep up.”