Can you be fired for testing positive for COVID-19?
Houston - Ivonne Villarreal says she furious that her 69-year-old father was fired and cut off from his health insurance on the same day he told his employer he tested positive for COVID-19.
That was December 30. The next day, his symptoms got worse.
"He had to go to the hospital. We wouldn't have known that his insurance was terminated until I got the letter," Ivonne noted.
The letter she refers to were his options through COBRA -- which gives some workers who lose health benefits the right to continue coverage for a limited time and, typically, it's expensive.
"To me was like total disregard. They don't care. He was nothing," Ivonne said. She notes her father had worked for Yellow Cab Houston, previously Pasadena Taxi, for more than 35 years.
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So, can someone be fired for testing positive for COVID-19 in Texas?
"Unfortunately, in general, yes. There are exceptions to the rule and it's going to be dependent upon on each indvidual's circumstances," said Clayton Craighead, an employment lawyer in Houston.
He explains in rare cases, employees can be protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act or American with Disabilities Act.
Last year, Congress also passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
"That particular statute gave employees emergency leave for certain period if they are diagnosed with COVID or if they are caring for their children who might be engaging in remote learning, things of that nature, due to school closures," Craighead added.
However, the protections applied to smaller businesses and expired on December 31. Craighead believes Congress will pass a similar protection under the new Biden administration.
He also adds Texas is a right to work state.
"An employer can terminate an employee for any reason or no reason whatsoever provided that, if they have a reason, it's not an unlawful reason," Craighead explained.
However, he says you may be able to find out why you were terminated when you apply for unemployment benefits.
But there are federal protections against discrimination such as race, religion, gender, or age.
"By default, if you're 40 years or over, you're in a protected class based on your age," Craighead noted.
He says, for example, if a 30-year-old employee was not fired after contracting COVID-19 and a 70-year-old employee was fired, that could suggest ageism.
Ivonne also wonders if that could be the case with her father.
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She insists on getting an explanation for his termination, but she says Yellow Cab has not adequately responded to their questions. She says she'll continue to advocate for her father.
"Just don't let stuff slide off like that especially when you know it's not right," Ivonne said.
FOX 26 did reach out to Yellow Cab for comment and their attorney Marty Hill sent the following statement:
"As L.S. (HR Director for Yellow Cab) advised the daughter of E.G. shortly after this incident occurred in response to similar questions, Yellow Cab employee information is protected as confidential unless and until the former employee authorizes the dissemination of such confidential information to third parties. Yellow Cab would be happy to provide an explanation regarding E.G., but conditioned on a full authorization by E.G. to release such information. We can assure you that Yellow Cab has consistently followed all applicable laws and rules as well as taking all reasonable precautions to protect their employees and third parties from contagious diseases. Upon receipt of written authorization to provide detailed information, we will be happy to explain the policies and actions followed regarding E.G."
Ivonne says that she was never told she had to get written consent from her father for her to advocate on his behalf.