Working under COVID-19:
How to Return to a Safe Workplace in Illinois
Please note: general guidance, private sector, employees represented by a union may have different workplace policies
rights during this public health emergency.
● How to return to work in a safe and healthy workplace
● Can my employer take my temperature when I get to work?
● If I have been working from home and my workplace reopens, can my employer force me to return to the physical
● Can my employer make me wear a mask?
● Can my employer make me stay home if I have COVID19 symptoms?
● If I call in sick or go home early because I don't feel well, what information do I have to provide if my employer asks about
● I took a few personal days to be with my family. Can my employer ask who I was with?
● My employer wants to know if I have a medical condition that can make me more vulnerable to COVID-19. What do I have
to tell them?
● When I go back to work after being sick with COVID-19, can my employer ask me for a doctor's note saying I am healthy
● What else does my employer have to do to resume work safely?
● What actions can my co-workers and I take to protect ourselves?
● Can my employer take action against me if I am impacted by COVID-19?
● What can I do if my employer retaliates against me for staying home sick with COVID-19 or taking other action protected
under this ordinance?
How to return to work in a safe and healthy workplace
Many workers wonder when and how they can return to work when COVID-19 restrictions are
lifted and companies are allowed to reopen.
There are workers who were sent home in lay-offs, others who voluntarily isolated themselves,
and workers who were sick and recovered. Here we try to answer questions for each of those
First, you and your co-workers should only work if you feel it is healthy and safe to do so. If you
feel that it is unhealthy or unsafe to work, there are actions that you and your co-workers can
take before working. All companies have a legal responsibility to maintain "a workplace free of
recognized hazards." In the current situation, that means "a workplace where workers do not
catch the virus."
Can my employer take my temperature when I get to work?
Yes. Ordinarily, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that your employer receive
your permission. However, since the coronavirus can threaten your co-workers, your employer
can take your temperature according to new guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity
Your employer can only take your temperature for the duration of the COVID19 health
If I have been working from home and my workplace reopens, can my employer force me to
return to the physical workplace location?
In general, if your employer orders you to return to work, you must return if you want to keep
your job. But there may be exceptions. For instance, if you have a health condition that makes
you more susceptible to serious health complications, you may have the right to continue
working remotely, or to ask for a job that does not expose you to others. This is called a
"reasonable accommodation" under the ADA. To use this option, you may be required to
submit proof from a medical doctor.
Additionally, you can use the Families First Act (FFA), approved in March 2020, to apply for
family medical leave or paid sick leave for certain conditions directly related to the COVID19
pandemic. The FFA entitles workers who are sick, those sent to quarantine by a health
professional or authority, and others to be paid up to 80 hours of wages, as long as the
employer has fewer than 500 workers. If the employer does not pay, you can submit a wage
theft complaint to the Department of Labor (DOL).
Can my employer make me wear a mask?
Yes. During the pandemic, your employer may require you to wear a mask, gloves, or other
personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE helps to prevent the potential spread of the virus
among workers, or betweens workers and customers or clients. If you have a medical disability that will make one of these requirements a problem, for example, a latex allergy, and the company only offers latex gloves, you can ask the employer to make reasonable
Can my employer make me stay home if I have COVID19 symptoms?
Yes, according to EEOC and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, you need to
stay home if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. It is your employer's obligation to
protect everyone in the workplace, and if you have COVID-19 and can put others in imminent
danger, your employer can send you home.
If I call in sick or go home early because I don't feel well, what information do I have to
provide if my employer asks about my symptoms?
The EEOC says the employer can only ask questions to determine if you may have symptoms
associated with COVID-19, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, and sore throat.
I took a few personal days to be with my family. Can my employer ask who I was with?
Public health officials recommend that people who have been in contact with someone who
may be infected stay home for a few days. Your employer may ask you if this is the case for
you. You only need to share with your employer if you had contact with someone who has
tested positive forCOVID-19, who has symptoms, or who was exposed to the virus.
My employer wants to know if I have a medical condition that can make me more vulnerable
to COVID-19. What do I have to tell them?
The EEOC does not allow your employer to ask you about other medical conditions, because
disclosing such information could lead to unfair treatment based on your condition. Disclosure
of a medical condition to your employer is completely voluntary
However, disclosing a medical condition is the only way to request "reasonable
accommodation" or to request an absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Additionally, Governor Pritzker's Executive Order # 32 allows workers with certain medical
conditions to stay home and not go to work. These medical conditions include lung, heart, liver
or kidney disease, obesity and asthma, as well as being older, taking into account that
COVID-19 especially affects older adults.
When I go back to work after being sick with COVID-19, can my employer ask me for a
doctor's note saying I am healthy for work?
Yes. Remember that your employer is legally mandated to protect the health of all workers,
and one way of doing it is to make sure that you cannot infect anyone. But the employer
should not force you to provide other documentation, like full laboratory results. That would
constitute a violation of your rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
What else does my employer have to do to resume work safely?
The employer must comply with the laws, guidelines and regulations of Occupational Safety
and Health Administration (OSHA), the CDC, the Illinois State Department of Public Health
(IDPH), and Governor Pritzker's Executive Order # 32. According to this order, your employer
must do the following:
● Provide appropriate masks to workers who are unable at all times to keep the physical
distance of six feet
● Physically mark your workplace so that a distance of six feet is kept between workers
● Clean common areas frequently
● Facilitate hand washing and provide hand sanitizer
In the case of workplaces open to the public, your employer is responsible for ensuring that
customers also maintain these distances and even provide customers with face masks.
In addition, your employer must reduce the speed of production lines and establish staggered
shifts to avoid the crowding of workers. For instance, by opening a second or a third shift to
reduce the number of workers and to keep the appropriate distances, or arranging for workers
to enter and exit workplace locker rooms, dining rooms, and other common areas at different
What actions can my co-workers and I take to protect ourselves?
If your employer does not follow all of the above-mentioned rules and laws, remember that you
have the legal right to refuse unsafe or unhealthy work. You also have the right to collectively
demand that your employer follow these rules and laws, or to institute other health and safety
measures. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Governor Pritzker's Executive Order
# 32 protect you and your co-workers to take action together in response to unsafe or
unhealthy working conditions. You and your co-workers can take actions such as organizing a
group meeting with your employer; circulating and submitting a petition to your employer;
collectively stopping work, walking off the job, or striking; collectively speaking publicly or
protesting; reporting your employer to a government agency, and more. The NLRA prohibits
your employer from retaliating against you and your co-workers for taking these actions.
Can my employer take action against me if I am impacted by COVID-19?
Chicago prohibits retaliation against workers who experience COVID-19.
In May 2020, the City of Chicago issued an order to ban employers from retaliating against
workers affected by the COVID-19.
Basically, the ordinance allows workers to obey the authorities' orders about the Coronavirus
without suffering punishment from their employer.
The ordinance explicitly prohibits:
● Being fired
● Termination of a contract
● Degrading a worker’s employment category (like your role, title, or rate of pay)
● Taking any other negative action against a worker for obeying the orders of the Chicago
Mayor's Office, the Governor of Illinois, the Chicago Department of Health, and in some
cases, the orders of any doctor.
Your employer cannot take any negative acton against you if you do any of the following:
● Stay home to avoid exposure to the coronavirus
● Stay home if you have symptoms of COVID-19, or are sick with COVID-19
● Obey a quarantine order given to you
● Obey an isolation order given to you
Additionally, employers cannot punish any worker for staying home caring for a sick or
quarantined person, or someone who has to stay home to avoid exposure to the Coronavirus.
What can I do if my employer retaliates against me for staying home sick with COVID-19 or
taking other action protected under this ordinance?
You can file a complaint with the Chicago Office of Labor Standards. You can file a complaint
by calling 311 or filling out a complaint form on the OLS website.
If employers retaliate against a worker, the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and
Consumer Protection and its Office of Labor Standards can fine them up to $ 1,000 for each
day, unless the situation is corrected in 30 days.
Affected workers can also file a civil lawsuit to have their jobs returned in the same category,
and for the loss of their wages, claiming up to three times the amount of money they would
have earned if they had not been fired, plus other damages they may have suffered because
of their dismissal, as well as the cost of the lawsuit and attorney.
rights during this public health emergency.