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Protections that You Have When Reporting Concerns About the COVID-19 Pandemic at Work. The PHEW Act.

Jun 7th, 2021

Video Transcript

Hi, my name is Emily Fiscus and I am an employment litigation attorney at Ogborn Mihm. I’m here today to talk with you about the protections that you have when reporting concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic at work. So what do you do if at work, your employer does not require people to wear masks or engage in social distancing? Do you have protections if you put your foot down to oppose what you believe to be unlawful conduct in the workplace? The good news is that the general answer is yes. You do have protections under Colorado’s Public Health Emergency Whistleblower act, or the PHEW act.


What does the PHEW act do? The PHEW act states that it is illegal for employers to retaliate against, discriminate against, or take adverse action against a worker in certain circumstances, such as when a worker reports their reasonable good faith concern, that there is a workplace safety or hazard issue caused by a public health emergency In the workplace, or when a worker reports concerns that their employer is violating federal or state law or local public health guidelines.

The act also protects workers who oppose practices in the workplace that they believe to be unlawful. So let me give you an example and let’s discuss a woman named Diane. Diane is a worker at a local business. She serves as a sales professional.  The general company policy is that when employees are out front interacting with customers, everyone needs to be wearing masks. The problem is that’s not really the story behind the scenes

Behind the scenes when Diane and her coworkers sit very close to each other at cubicles, no one is required to wear a mask. People don’t wear masks when they go to the break room or they’re walking around in the office. In fact, everyone gives Diane a hard time because she’s the only one who wears a mask behind closed doors. Diane is concerned that her workplace is not safe during this COVID 19 pandemic under the PHEW act. 

What can Diane do?

Diane is protected in making reports about her reasonable good faith concerns. She can talk about her concerns with her coworkers and her employer cannot take action against her because of it. Diane can report her concerns to her employers, her bosses, HR, anyone else at her workplace. She can report her concerns so that the employer can try to remedy the concerns. Diane is also permitted to talk about her concerns with her family, her friends, and the public, including the media. And finally, Diane can report her concerns to government agencies that are tasked with investigating and enforcing the law.Public Health

Protected Under the Public Health Emergency Whistleblower Act

So you might be asking though, that’s all fine and good. If Diane can make these reports, but I don’t know that I would want to do that. Would it be putting a target on my back and giving my boss permission to fire me? Because I was the squeaky wheel. The answer is no and that is exactly what the Public Health Emergency Whistleblower Act is designed to prevent. It provides protection so that employers cannot take action against workers who report these reasonable good faith concerns about health and safety issues surrounding a public health emergency or violations of the law or public health recommendations. And now adverse action isn’t just firing somebody. It also means that employers cannot demote a worker or decrease their pay, put them on a less desirable shift or take away meaningful job duties.

Anything that a typical worker would perceive as an unfavorable action against them is prohibited by the Act. The goal here is really to allow workers to not feel like their back is up against the wall making a decision to report concerns at the risk of losing their job. Workers often have a first and best line of sight into what is going right, and what could be done better at work. The law is there to protect workers in doing what is necessary to not only keep workplaces, but our community safe.

What you should do if you have a concern that your workplace is unsafe during this COVID-19 pandemic, or you have a suffered, a termination or retaliation for reporting your concerns?

The first step is to contact an employment lawyer who is specialized or focuses on these PHEW Act cases. You should know that there are remedies available to you, such as recovering lost wages and, if you are fired, compensation for the mental anguish suffered as a result, as well as making workplaces safer. At Ogborn Mihm, we are experienced and passionate about PHEW cases. We look forward to talking with you about your experience. We hope this was helpful. Please contact us at (303) 592-5900 or visit our website at www.omtrial.com if you need assistance.