Employer Lawsuits Soar Due to COVID-19
October 2, 2020 | COVID-19
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have been grappling with a variety of difficult decisions, underpinned by the rapidly developing guidance on how to make them. From evaluating whether or not a business should stay open to determining how to best protect employees, these tough decisions have been the catalyst for rising workplace lawsuits in the US.
California and Florida have seen the highest number of COVID-19-related workplace claims to date, with California seeing 47 cases while Florida having 32. New Jersey and New York have also had high numbers of these lawsuits filed, with 31 and 21 respectively.
As of June, over 2,000 lawsuits related to COVID-19 had been filed in federal and state courts, with more than 230 lawsuits directly related to employment and labor violations.
Here are several of the most common forms of claims that employees are making during the COVID-19 crisis:
Infection and Wrongful Death
Employers that have failed to take adequate safety measures, including appropriately cleaning and sanitizing workplace areas, providing hand washing dispensers and necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as enforcing social distancing protocol, are in breach of the guidance issued by Occupational Safety and Hazard Act (OSHA).
A lawsuit can arise when employees can prove that employers have failed to follow OSHA guidance in providing the means of a safe working environment, and have directly caused COVID-19-related sickness and/or death. A recent wrongful COVID-19-related death lawsuit involved the death of Raymond Lanzo, an employee in a mental health facility who contracted the virus after the employer failed to follow virus suppression directives issued by the state of Ohio.
Overwork Leading to Psychological or Physical injury
Employers have a duty to undertake sufficient risk assessments to identify any dangers that are exposed in the workplace that can directly harm the health and safety of their employees.
As COVID-19 has significantly reduced the number of workers in certain workforces due to infection and quarantines, and so increased workloads for the remaining employees, workers have become more at risk of becoming overwhelmed and overexerted. This can result in ramifications such as stress, mental exhaustion, and physical exhaustion.
With the health of employees compromised due to a limited workforce, more and more employers are facing both psychological and physical injury claims.
Wage and Hour Claims
The COVID-19 crisis has forced many employers to reduce payroll, schedules, and salaries to save money as business plummets, with some employees being furloughed or even made redundant.
With these decisions, employers are obliged to pay out any accrued paid time off and final earned wages, and to do so in a timely manner.
Wage and hour lawsuits can also ensue due to any remote work that has been carried out by nonexempt employees, as well as for any unpaid time spent completing COVID-19 safety measurements such as completing health screenings, temperature checks, or other tests required by the employer.
Pandemic or no pandemic, employers are always legally required to ensure that their workplace decisions do not directly or indirectly discriminate against employees. Discrimination lawsuits relating to COVID-19 are occurring as employees claim that they were fired due to discrimination under the guise of COVID-19 layoffs, and other, similar circumstances.
Examples of direct discrimination during COVID:
- Intentionally no longer recruiting employees of certain ethnicities that are connected to the country of origin of an outbreak.
- Dismissing employees without cause who have a disability, long-term illness, or belong to a minority group.
Examples of indirect discrimination during COVID:
- Unjustly scrutinizing the performance of female employees working from home over that of male employees under the stereotypical assumption that they will be distracted by childcare.
- An employer refusing to accept requests for part-time, home, or flexible working accommodations from disbled, elderly, or pregnant employees, or those with children in school being disproportionately affected.
- An employer decides which employees to lay off by reviewing sales figures and failing to allow for individual circumstances, putting those who have been on leave (such as for maternity or illness) at a disadvantage.
Employers who fail to provide the appropriate paid leave that is required related to COVID-19 are also liable for a lawsuit. Multiple claims from employees have involved employers allegedly denying paid leave to which they were entitled to under new COVID-19 laws, ordinances, and regulations.
Such refusals tend to occur when employers have not closely followed pandemic-spurred developments in state and local government regulations and so have not updated their leave programs accordingly.
Employees seeking restitution for lost wages, lost employment, discrimination, or other maltreatment from an employer should contact a New York civil litigation attorney for a free consultation to review your case.
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