Does My Employer Have to Provide Accommodations if I Live with Someone Who is High-Risk for Severe Illness from COVID-19?

In short, the answer is probably not. While California and federal laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and employees with disabilities, including when pregnancy or disability puts them at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19, these accommodation laws do not definitively extend to an employee’s family member or housemate that is high-risk. This is especially true if the only factor contributing to that person’s high-risk status is their age because age is not a disability and employers are not required to reasonably accommodate employees based on their age.

What this means is that an employee who does not independently need an accommodation for their own disability or pregnancy generally will not be entitled to an accommodation, such as teleworking, to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19 because they live with someone or have a family member who is high-risk. Despite this, employers may still choose to provide such accommodations to non-disabled employees; however, in doing so, the employer must be sure to provide such accommodations consistently. Further, eligible employees are entitled to unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a spouse, parent, or dependent child that actually has (and is not just at risk for) a serious health condition, including COVID-19.

The only caveat concerns the lesser-known claim for “associational discrimination.” California and federal laws prohibit discrimination and harassment based not only on an employee’s protected status such as disability, age, national origin, and sex (including pregnancy), but on an employee’s association with an individual within a protected class. For example, it is unlawful to refuse to hire, segregate, send employees home, or terminate employees because of their association (including marriage and co-habitation) with someone based on their disability, age, national origin, sex (including pregnancy), etc. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (see FAQ D.13) made clear that federal associational discrimination law does not require an employer to accommodate an employee without a disability based on the disability-related needs of their family member or other person with whom they are associated. California law, however, is less clear. In fact, while California has not specifically ruled on the issue, it has recognized that California’s associational discrimination law may reasonably be interpreted to require accommodation based on the employee's association with a disabled person.

As such, if you believe you are being treated differently because of your association with a person who is high-risk for COVID-19, or if you have been denied accommodations for your high-risk family member or housemate, you may be able to hold your employer legally accountable. The employment law attorneys of Haeggquist & Eck, LLP will work with you to learn about your situation and seek fair and just compensation if your employer is breaking the law. Contact us online or call (619) 468-5222 to learn more about how we may be able to support your claim.

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