April 30, 2020 by Southern Maine Workers Center

Can my employer terminate me or discipline me for refusing to work in an environment in which there is a high risk of exposure to coronavirus, if I report a risk of exposure, or if I advocate for changes to make my workplace safer?

Under the Maine Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (MWPA), your employer cannot discriminate against you for your good faith report of what you have “reasonable cause to believe is a condition or practice that would put at risk the health or safety of that employee or any other individual.” Therefore, a report you make about a risk of exposure may qualify as protected activity under the MWPA and your employer may be liable for retaliating against you by terminating you or disciplining you for making such a report. 

Additionally, the MWPA protects you from discrimination for your good faith refusal to carry out a directive to engage in activity that would expose you “to a condition that would result in serious injury or death.”  That may include refusing to come to your worksite if there is a high risk of exposure to the virus, particularly if you have a condition that puts you at high risk of death. However, you are only protected for such a refusal if you first report the condition to your employer.  

The WORK Manual has information about whistleblower retaliation at page 72.

If you believe that you have been subject to retaliation under the MWPA, contact an employment discrimination attorney. You may also file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission directly by filling out an online intake form or calling (207) 624-6290. Keep in mind that short deadlines may apply to your claims, including a 300-day deadline for filing a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission. 

You and your fellow workers may also be protected by Section 502 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) for collectively refusing to work in an unsafe workplace.  The protections of the NLRA apply regardless of whether your workplace is unionized.

DISCLAIMER: This FAQ Sheet is intended to provide accurate, general background information regarding legal rights relating to employment in Maine. It is not legal advice. Because laws and legal procedures are subject to differing interpretations and frequent change, particularly in an emergency, the authors cannot ensure the information is current or be responsible for how the information is used. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.