Donald Trump stunned workplace safety officials and caused plaintiff’s lawyers to lick their chops after announcing employers can ignore Covid-19 coronavirus cases among their workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a legal thicket that could snare employers in costly litigation for failing to maintain a safe workplace by ignoring infections among workers, or forcing workers who are sick to report to work anyway.
Workplace plaintiff’s lawyers have already reached out to workers through websites or direct e-mails advising them of their rights, should employers take adverse actions against them.
Outten & Golden, a employment law firm with offices in New York, Chicago, Wasnington, D.C. and San Francisco, writes on its Website that the “outbreak has changed the work situations for millions of people throughout the United States.”
In this time of crisis, a host of federal, state, and local laws can protect your job, your wages, and your livelihood, it advises.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has currently classified COVID-19 as a recordable illness. Employers must notify OSHA if an employee who reports to work is sick.
Under the new Trump Labor Department enforcement memo, employers would only have to report cases if “objective evidence” exists that the transmission was work-related, according to HuffPost.
Employers would also only have to contact OSHA if evidence is “reasonably available to the employer.”
former OSHA officials were shocked by the announcement.
“OSHA is kidding, right?” tweeted David Michaels, who led OSHA during the Obama administration.
From a strictly health standpoint alone, the new determination is wreckless and endangers not only workers but the population at large.
“So all you infected bus drivers, grocery store clerks, poultry processors ― you didn’t get it at work,” tweeted Jordan Barab, a former OSHA official now with the House Committee on Education and Labor.
According to Outten & Golden, employers could be legally exposed under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) if they take adverse action against an employee with a serious health condition.
“In certain circumstances, an employee who has an underlying condition exacerbated by the coronavirus (for instance, asthma or a heart condition) may be considered disabled,” the law firm noted.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires an employer to offer paid leave.
Workers also have legal rights that could cover reimbursement for setting up a home office; lay offs or cuts in work hours; unexecuted severance agreement and vested stock options.
Workers also have legal protections for reporting their company for illegal activities or is fraudulently billing the government for medical supplies and equipment.
The disease is already spawning ligation across the country.
The Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE) sued Fox News for allegedly violating Washington State’s Consumer Protection Act.
The suit accuses the network of falsely stating in February and March broadcasts that the novel coronavirus was a hoax, downplaying the crisis in a way that potentially undermined efforts to slow the spread of the disease. Fox has denied the allegations.
The family of a Chicago-area Walmart employee who died from COVID-19 has filed a lawsuit against the retail giant, alleging that the company failed to take the precautions necessary to protect its employees during the coronavirus outbreak, according to local news reports.
The case, filed on behalf of the estate of Wando Evans, could be the first of several wrongful death lawsuits related to COVID-19 in Illinois.
Evans, 51, had worked for 15 years as an overnight stock and maintenance associate. The suit alleges that the store ignored him when he first mentioned his symptoms. He was ultimately allowed to leave work, but two days later his family said he was found dead at his home from complications related to the virus.
“Legal action is one way that impacted consumers, workers, homeowners, and others can seek relief,” according to Sanders, Phillips, Grossman, a national litigation law firm.
“Some coronavirus lawsuits take aim at individuals and companies that allegedly sought to profit during a time of crisis; others argue that greater care could have helped stem the disease’s spread,” it noted on its Website.
The virus has already led to lawsuits over false claims for health products, price gouging, false securities statements, predatory lending and foreclosure, negligence and tuition reimbursement.
In its memo on COVID-19 recording, OSHA said that by not enforcing the requirement on most employers, the agency would “help employers focus their response efforts on implementing good hygiene practices in their workplaces, and otherwise mitigating COVID-19’s effects, rather than on making difficult [work-related] decisions in circumstances where there is community transmission.”
Labor unions are already up in arms about the new ruling. It’s almost certain to result in one more coronavirus lawsuit.