As the coronavirus outbreak unfolds, students have concerns about how the job market will be impacted and, in particular, their plans for summer employment. Employee attorney and former Fordham Law Stein Scholar Alex Berke ’14—whose firm is immersed in rapidly changing employment laws and benefit programs related to coronavirus—spoke with Fordham Law students during a live, virtual discussion about employees’ workplace rights. Students were able to address their own summer employment issues through this training session.
The discussion, hosted by Fordham Workers’ Rights Advocates on April 16, covered issues from New York State Paid Family Leave to what an employee should do if an employer asks him/her to complete in-person training before Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order locking down New York State is lifted.
“I love coming back to Fordham for these kinds of talks because it’s a great way to stay in touch with students,” Berke said. “I was really impressed with how the session went because it was clear that the students were not only asking questions for themselves, but they were also thinking about how to be useful in their communities, and with their families and friends.”
Since some students are still trying to solidify their summer work plans, Berke reiterated that an employer can cancel a summer internship—even if a start date had been confirmed prior to the coronavirus shutdown. She also gave practical advice to those who are still in limbo about how to follow-up with their potential employers on the matter. For example, Berke suggested employees ask how their potential employers are doing at this time, applauding them if they’ve done anything in response to the coronavirus, and avoid focusing outreach inquiries around personal stress and anxiety.
“A lot of the places that you were planning to work at this summer might be doing layoffs, furloughs, or reducing pay. This is mostly legal,” Berke said to the attendees. “You’re allowed to know if you still have a job this summer. They’re allowed to not know what the answer is at this moment, but you’re allowed to check in with them. I think that it’s important to be human in your approach to this check-in.”
Berke’s firm, Berke-Weiss Law PLLC, has a coronavirus resource page for New York-based employers and employees, which includes blog posts that answer frequently asked questions and provide related links. Berke-Weiss Law is also offering free 15-minute consultations for those who have specific coronavirus-related workplace issues or questions. Berke also recommended that students should take advantage of CLE courses that are currently being offered for free by the New York City and New York State Bar Associations.
Fordham’s Workers’ Rights Advocates will be scheduling another “Know Your Rights” session with Berke on April 28, which will focus on sexual harassment, including novel issues during the coronavirus outbreak.