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Can employees stay home from work because of coronavirus fears? Ask HR

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: If I refused to come to work because of the coronavirus, could my employer fire me? – Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: The short, and perhaps surprising, answer to your question is yes. Since nearly all states are employee-at-will jurisdictions, you are likely required to work – unless you have a reasonable basis to believe your workplace is unsafe.

That basis will depend on the specifics, such as if this outbreak worsens, if there are confirmed cases in your area, or if you have been exposed to someone who has traveled to, or been exposed to someone from such an area.

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