Attorney: There are some protections for when workers call in sick

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Center for Disease Control said that Virginia is one of eight states where the flu is widespread right now. With that in mind, several viewers reached out to CBS 6 concerned that if they called out sick their employer would retaliate or not give them time off.

CBS 6 contacted Lisa Lawrence, a local employment attorney with Lawrence and Associates, to find out what types of protections are in place for Virginia workers when they fall ill.

It is a complex situation, she said, and sickness protections are not "one-size fits all." Still, Lawrence said there are some important things to keep in mind.

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Virginia is an "at-will" employment state, so employers have the right to fire employees at any time without notice. However, Lawrence said employees who work for medium or large sized companies may qualify for federal protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

"You should always ask your HR Department or your manager whether you have that kind of coverage and always get a doctor's note," Lawrence said. "It's always good to stand up for your own rights, but employers also have an obligation to give the employee notification of their rights under the F.M.L.A.  That is often done in the employee handbook, so check there."

Lawrence cautioned there are many "variables" about whether or not someone's flu symptoms qualify under the F.M.L.A. Generally, those symptoms have to be serious or keep an employee out of work for at least three days.

To learn more about your rights as an employee, visit the Department of Labor's website.

lisa-lawrence

Lisa Lawrence

As for how the flu outbreak is impacting Virginia, Dr. Melissa Aquilo with Patient First said Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads have seen larger spikes in flu patients than Central Virginia, although the numbers here are up too.

Dr. Aquilo said that is even more reason to take precautions to protect yourself right now.  She said workers who feel like they can "tough it out" and go to work should think twice.

"I don't recommend it if you're around other people. If you can work from home or take some time for your body to rest, I think it's much better," said Aquilo.

Patient First recommends reading up on flu symptoms and prevention methods.  You can read more about them, here.