Working During the COVID 19 Outbreak

  The Department of Homeland security, the Governor of Tennessee, and the Memphis Mayor, have all declared that Construction Workers, and Service Plumbers are essential workers. The safety of workers and their families should be the highest priority. The CDC and other organizations have released guidelines on working during the outbreak. Please keep in mind these are guidelines, or suggestions, they are not laws.

CDC’s webpage on employer guidelines


OSHA’s webpage guidance on workplace during the outbreak

Here is a link to an article on how OSHA is handling complaints regarding the virus.


  Local 17’s members should work together with their foreman, and other supervisors to try to comply with these guidelines as much as possible. If you are working in unsafe conditions, please discuss with your supervisor how to correct the issues. If you are not getting a response from these discussions, contact Brandon with local 17 for help. Keep in mind if you quit, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. See copied statement from UA regarding this issue.

“What should an employee do if he fears going to work because he has at‐risk family members at home, or he is at‐risk for COVID‐19 due to an underlying health issue?  Does it matter if the employee is an essential employee?  Can the employee be fired?   In most cases, a decision not to report to work based on a generalized fear of contracting COVID‐19 or passing it on to a family member will not be legally protected. Therefore, an employee who refuses to report based on such a fear may be subject to termination.  This would be the case regardless of whether the employee has been designated an essential employee.  If this arises, you will want to find out whether the employer is treating all similarly situated employees the same way.  We encourage our signatory contractors to be flexible in evaluating a situation like that raised in this question.   Rather than firing this employee, we’d hope the employer would furlough or lay him off, so that he qualifies for the expanded unemployment benefits now available under the CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27, 2020.   In theory, the employee who is at‐risk due to an underlying health condition could request a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it’s unclear that there is any practical accommodation available, even if the employer would be required to provide one under these facts. “

 Below is a correspondence from an attorney for the UA regarding this issue.


"Under most state unemployment laws, including Tennessee’s, an employee who voluntarily quits is not eligible for unemployment benefits unless he or she quits for good work-related reason.  Quitting due to unsafe work conditions could conceivably qualify based on the facts and circumstances of a particular case, but you’d need to demonstrate that the employer is actually maintaining an unsafe workplace.  A generalized fear of contracting COVID-19 on a job is not going to be enough.


The recently-enacted federal CARES Act also speaks to eligibility.  Under the CARES Act, states may enter into agreements with the federal government allowing them to provide expanded unemployment benefits—with no waiting periods or requirements to earn wages over a particular time periods—at no cost to the state (i.e., 100% federally-funded).  Tennessee has entered into such an agreement, which means that an individual would also be eligible for unemployment if he:

·         Has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms and is seeking a diagnosis;

·         Has a member of their household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;

  • Is providing care for a family member or household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;

  • Has a child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility who is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 emergency (and thus the individual cannot work);

  • Is unable to reach the place of employment because they have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine;

  • Is scheduled to start working but unable to do so as a direct result of the COVID-19 emergency;

  • Becomes the breadwinner because the head of household died as a result of COVID-19;

  • Has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19;

  • Worked for an employer that closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 emergency; or

  • Is self-employed, seeking part-time employment, does not have sufficient work history, or otherwise would not qualify for unemployment benefits and meet one of the above reasons for needing to file for benefits.

In theory, you could make an argument that the bolded reason above is applicable to the member you describe, but interpretative guidance provided to date by the U.S. Department of Labor seems to dispense with this possibility.  The applicable guidance—specifically, Unemployment Insurance Program (“UPL”) Letter No. 16-20—interprets eligibility based on a need “to quit … as a direct result of COVID-19” narrowly. Just one example of such a case is provided: “An individual was diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and although the individual no longer has COVID-19, the illness caused health complications that render the individual objectively unable to perform his or her essential job functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation.”

  Below is a link from the Memphis Labor Council regarding unsafe workplaces during the virus outbreak. Please review and sign the petition. There is contact information at the bottom for the Shelby County Action Center hotline.



Please review the link below regarding the CARES act. Please keep in mind this only applies to employers who receive the Stimulus loan/grant. Many employers are not wanting to issue layoffs over concerns of becoming ineligible for the grant. Currently there is no way to verify what employers are going to participate.


  The United Association has page with links on and video covering many COVID 19 issues for members.  This information includes many items like working conditions, and cleaning the tools. All this information may change as it develops so check back often for the most up to date information.