Can I be let go from my job if I don’t feel safe going back to the office?

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My employer wants us back in the office, but I don’t feel the conditions there are safe. They said if I don’t return, I’m abandoning my job. What are my options?

You have just opened a can of workplace worms, and I believe there will be many of these new workplace issues that will be hitting the courts for resolution over the next few years. Generally, one has to feel more than “not safe” — there has to be evidence of conditions in violation of health and safety regulations and guidelines. COVID-19 has had a detrimental effect on mental health, though, and the anxiety that some people have, if certified by a doctor, could rise to the level of a disability that could be qualifying for leave or accommodation. I also think that the unemployment divisions are going to be sympathetic to individuals who claim that employers did not make them feel safe, forcing resignation, whereby they may qualify for unemployment. But without a medically certified request for leave, or evidence of actual unsafe or unhealthy working conditions, if you fail to return to work, your employer will likely consider that a resignation.

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