U of I employment professor: “There is no playbook” for who is classified as a essential worker

LeRoy says you do have the right to refuse without it costing you your job. In practicality, he adds, you’d better have a lawyer beside you or a union behind you if you are invoking that rule. (Photo courtesy: WJBC/File)

By Dave Dahl

SPRINGFIELD – Police and fire professionals are one thing, but a person taking a minimum-wage job at a grocery store probably is not signing up for a run to danger.

But, during the coronavirus outbreak, they’re all “essential.”

University of Illinois labor and employment professor Michael LeRoy has studied this in factories during World War II and for first responders post-9/11.

“There is this little known work rule that osha has and it’s called the work refusal rule it’s been tested only in the more obvious cases: where people working on a bridge in a 40 mph wind have refused to work, or in a coal mine,” LeRoy says. “But we haven’t had a retail worker invoke that rule.”

LeRoy says you do have the right to refuse without it costing you your job. In practicality, he adds, you’d better have a lawyer beside you or a union behind you if you are invoking that rule.

Otherwise, he says “there is no playbook” for determining who is essential and who is not.

Dave Dahl can be reached at News@WJBC.com. 

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