My question, at its core, seems fairly simple:
When coworkers are sick at my workplace, does my employer have any obligation to accommodate those of us who do not want to work near the sick people?
From what I have been able to find so far in my search, I know that the employer has the right (but is not required) to send sick people home. But I am asking from the point of view of those of us who are healthy and want to remain that way.
Does the answer change if I (the healthy worker) am concerned the illness is not a common, simple cold or flue, since we currently have confirmed cases of both pertussis (whooping cough) and mumps in the area I work in (within the city itself, and also in a nearby city)?
I am not asking for legal advice, rather I am asking about what the law says concerning my right to a safe work environment.
Following is background information, some of which may be relevant.
Keep in mind that, while my two oldest children have received the MMR vaccine and the one for pertussis, my two youngest children have not received these vaccines.
Yesterday I went home early because of someone who works in very close proximity to my desk was coughing and sneezing. There were very recently cases of both pertussis and mumps in the city I am working in, and I work in an open area with aisles of cubicles.
I talked to my lead engineer to explain, then sent an email to him and my manager to let them know I was leaving early yesterday and for the following days this week would be coming in to the office during off hours to work in the absence of the coughing and sneezing.
Today I check my email to find that my manager's email response, to me and the lead engineer I work under, started off by asking my lead engineer if he is OK with this and if I would be able to do my job with minimal support during this time. You can guess about how I feel about this inquiry, but my question here is more to the point of: Does it matter if they are OK with this? Do they have a legal right to deny me reasonable accommodations while the work environment is literally toxic?
Some points about my particular case:
- The building I work in is always open, and I think security is always here. There is no cost to company for me to work the off hours I proposed.
- It is not at all uncommon for people to work crazy hours for other reasons, especially for approaching deadlines (ie: work until midnight or later)
- The company claims to be flexible and officially we have "flex time"
- Even now, it is after 7AM my time, more people have started coming in, and several of them have already started coughing, sneezing, and sniffling, leading me to believe the problem is spreading.
So, am I at the mercy of the whims of my employer such that they can allow or deny my request at their pleasure?