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Do populations vulnerable to COVID-19 in Colorado have to go back to work if ordered?

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- People considered vulnerable to COVID-19 are wondering what right they may have to refuse to return to work. This comes as Gov. Jared Polis gives retailers, personal service workers and office employees the green light to head back to work this week.

Polis said workplaces can begin opening with limited capacities. However, he also said during a news conference that if vulnerable populations are ordered to go back to work and don't want to go back because of COVID-19 concerns, they don't have to.

KRDO spoke with a local employment attorney about their options.

Attorney Michael Kuhn tells us that if you're considered part of that vulnerable population and you get fired for not coming into work you can report it to the Department of Labor.

"If the Governor is issuing some sort of directive that said you should not work, and your employer nonetheless requires you to do so and you refuse to do so, you could potentially have claims against the employer for wrongful termination because of an articulated state public policy," he explained.

But, depending on the situation, he said the employer could be deemed in the right for letting you go.

"If you're in a position that cannot be reasonably accommodated -- in other words you have to be there physically -- and the employer is taking all the appropriate measures in the workplace and you still refuse to go, the employer may have a legitimate basis to terminate your employment."

If you're vulnerable and find yourself out of work without pay, there are a few resources to help get you through it.

The new federal pandemic unemployment assistance will get you $600 a week.

Under the Colorado HELP act, you can get up to two weeks at two-thirds your regular pay.

And after those two weeks, you might qualify for regular unemployment if your workplace isn't following proper COVID-19 precautions like social distancing.

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Julia Donovan

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