Sarah Nichols | Q&A with an Employment Lawyer About Workplace Rights During COVID-19

Sarah Nichols is an attorney with more than 20 years of experience in HR and employment law, and she is the Founder of Nichols Law PC. She has spent years representing Fortune 100 companies but she has since pivoted and now represents employees who have experienced discrimination, harassment, or retaliation by their employers. 

Sarah is also the host of the Women’s Advocate Podcast. She is a skilled public speaker, author, coach and HR expert. She has taught at both Berkeley and Hastings Law Schools, and is a frequent speaker for associations as well as private employers. She graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Laws and Economics.

In this episode, John Corcoran shares a Q&A session he had with Sarah Nichols about issues related to COVID-19 and the workplace rights of employees. They talk about how to determine if a workplace is safe to come back to as COVID-19 continues to sweep through the country, the rights of employees working in the office or at home, the responsibilities of employers and some legal issues related to safety and employment.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Learn:

  • Does an employee have a right to work from home if they don’t feel safe working in the office?
  • What employers should do to enable their employees to work from home
  • Obligations employers have in providing safety equipment in the workplace
  • Sarah talks about employees being sent home for having COVID-19 symptoms, being forced to take sick leave, and having their temperatures taken
  • Questions employers are entitled to ask their employees and what they should not ask
  • Are doctors’ notes required to go back to work?
  • Sarah talks about mental health issues in the workplace and the kinds of accommodations and compensations employers can provide their employees
  • Can employers reveal their employees’ personal medical information and can they fire such employees?

Resources Mentioned:

Sponsor: Rise25

Today’s episode is sponsored by Rise25 Media, where our mission is to connect you with your best referral partners, clients, and strategic partners. We do this through our done for you podcast solution and content marketing. 

Along with my business partner Dr. Jeremy Weisz, we have over 18 years of experience with B2B podcasting, which is one of the best things you can do for your business and you personally. 

If you do it right, a podcast is like a “Swiss Army Knife” – it is a tool that accomplishes many things at once. It can and will lead to great ROI, great clients, referrals, strategic partnerships, and more. It is networking and business development; and it is personal and professional development which doubles as content marketing

A podcast is the highest and best use of your time and will save you time by connecting you to higher caliber people to uplevel your network. 

To learn more, go to or email us at [email protected]

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Check out Rise25 to learn more about our done-for-you lead generation and done-for-you podcast services. 

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:10  

Welcome to the Revolution, the Smart Business Revolution podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran  0:40  

Hey, everybody, John here, and what you’re about to listen to is an interview that we recorded for a new show that we’re publishing through Rise25. It’s called The Women’s Advocate with Sarah Nichols. Now, the reason I wanted to share it with my audience here is because Sarah is an amazing attorney who is advising In a lot of employees, and a lot of companies on issues related to COVID-19, including issues related to safety and legal issues having to do with what an employer can and can’t do for employees, requiring them to, for example, get their temperature taken in order to come to work or stay away from work if they have a temperature, these types of issues that are coming up, so I wanted to share it with you all so that you could have access to that information as well. So, here is my interview with Sarah Nichols.

Sarah Nichols  1:33  

Hey, everyone, Sarah Nichols here on the Founder of Nichols Law and HR law firm. I spent years representing Fortune 100 companies, and now I represent employees who have experienced discrimination, harassment, or retaliation by their employers. I’ve also taught at both Berkeley and Hastings law school. I have John Corcoran here. He has done thousands of interviews with successful entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs and we have flipped the script and he will be interviewing me.

John Corcoran  2:03  

All right. Thanks so much, Sarah, for having me. I’m excited to talk to you about this topic. So we’re going to be talking in this episode about a very relevant topic for the times because we’re recording this in the beginning of May 2020. We’re talking about how to determine if your workplace is safe during COVID-19 and what rights you have as an employee, what responsibilities that your employer has and some of the legal issues that are related around that. So stay tuned and we’re going to cover all of those different topics.

But first, this episode is sponsored by Nichols Law PC. Nichols Law is a San Francisco based law firm that represents clients worldwide, and is dedicated to ensuring women are treated and paid fairly in the workplace. Nichols Law’s mission is to close the wage gap for women and give a voice to employees. They represent individuals in retaliation or in relation to their discrimination, retaliation and Wage and Hour claims. also assist employees in negotiating their exits from their employers, if you aren’t sure whether you’re being treated fairly in the context COVID-19 or other situations, contact them for a no cost consultation at or email [email protected].

Alright, so, Sarah, on this topic, we’re gonna be talking about some of the issues related to a workplace during COVID-19. There’s a lot of people who are wondering whether their workplace is safe, what rights they have, what responsibilities their employer has. And let’s just start with one of them, which is, you know, if you are uncertain, does an employee have a right to work from home? Or if their employer is saying that they have to work in the office? Do they have to work in the office, especially if they don’t feel safe in doing so? What are some concerns or considerations around that question?

Sarah Nichols  3:55  

Right, good question. We’ve been getting a lot of employees saying, Look, I’ve looked at the Sitting rules on what’s essential and what’s not. And we just aren’t essential. And my boss is forcing me to come to work and I feel really uncomfortable, I feel unsafe. And we’ve even had an employee call the cops on their employer while they’re working there to shut them down. And so it really varies depending on the situation. And if you feel unsafe at work, and there’s ways for you to work from home, then there may be a lot of other options that you should explore other than going into work and you should never be made to feel unsafe in the workplace. And so, what you can do really depends on what your employer does. If you are an essential business, and you’re required to come to work. You have to really look at whether it’s reasonable or not for you to need more safety equipment. And if you’ve been given that equipment, then it may be necessary for you to work but And the employer may terminate your employment if you don’t come to work, if it’s safe, and it’s an essential business, if you’re not an essential business, and you can work from home, then you should be able to work from home.

John Corcoran  5:17  

And then the question is, what does the employer have to do to ensure that you can work for a home from home? Are they responsible for providing you with all the equipment they need? A computer, a phone, all those different things?

Sarah Nichols  5:31  

Yes. So Employers are required to help you be able to work from home and set you up with a computer or whatever you need to be able to do that work from home and reimburse you for reasonable costs that are necessary for you to do the job so you can’t go and get the most expensive chair you want and get them to pay for but there will be basics that the employer is required to cover including providing me with a laptop if that’s necessary.

John Corcoran  6:03  

And you mentioned safety equipment. So what are the obligations an employer has to provide in terms of safety equipment? And this would be for in the context of in the workplace, you know, do they have to provide hand sanitizer at everyone’s desk or all the workstations, they have to provide everyone with face masks or other equipment?

Sarah Nichols  6:23  

Right. Well, I guess the most common situation has been the largest number of employees affected this way have been employees who were restaurant workers, who are now you know, the restaurants pivoting to doing takeout that will be probably the most common employee current situation where they’re concerned about health and working close together. And every city has different guidance on what’s required in order to work in that situation. Also, grocery store employees would be another example of this and in most situations, It’s the same situation includes providing employees with gloves and face masks and the ability to use PRL or whatever disinfectant necessary to wipe down surfaces that they’re touching or come in contact with outside of wearing gloves. So

John Corcoran  7:19  

we’re jumping around a little bit here on these different questions, but I’m sure you’re receiving a lot of these different types of questions. So here’s another scenario. So let’s say I’m an employee, and I have some kind of symptoms, but I’m not, I’m feeling okay, I’m not feeling that bad. Can my boss send me home based on those symptoms?

Sarah Nichols  7:42  

Yes. So an employer can say employee home if they display any other symptoms. So if you’re complaining about a sore throat, work and don’t want to be sent home, that might not be such a good idea. But if you do have any of the symptoms, this probably best not to be at work at this point. And not only for yourself but for others, and an employer can send you home.