This reviews your rights under federal law. Always check with your local and state associations for assistance in enforcing these rights and about additional rights you may have under state laws, collective bargaining agreements or memorandums of understanding with the employer, or policies.
BY ALICE O’BRIEN, NEA GENERAL COUNSEL
Q: CAN MY SCHOOL INSULATE ITSELF FROM LIABILITY BY FORCING ME TO SIGN A DOCUMENT WAIVING MY LEGAL REMEDIES I MIGHT HAVE IF I CONTRACT COVID-19 ON THE JOB?
Some schools have reportedly asked educators to sign documents waiving any rights they have against the school based on exposure to COVID-19. These waivers are not enforceable for several reasons. First, employees cannot be asked to waive their rights under the workers’ compensation laws, which would likely be their main source of recovery for contracting COVID-19 at work. Second, to the extent the school has an obligation under occupational health laws to maintain a safe workplace, that duty cannot be waived. Third, tenured teachers generally cannot be disciplined or fired for refusing a demand to decrease their workplace protections. Fourth, in states with collective bargaining for school employees, schools cannot unilaterally change educators’ working conditions without bargaining with the union.