Workers File Lawsuits to Protect the Public from COVID-19
As the country continues to battle the pandemic, workers across the country continue to voice concerns for their safety and many have filed lawsuits in order to force employees to provide adequate protections in the workplace. While workers are generally protected from hazards in the workplace by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the process can be slow because complaints to OSHA must be investigated and violations must be found before the agency can force a business to act or face penalties. Moreover, OSHA does not allow workers to sue employers.
In order to ensure their health and safety during the pandemic, some employees have taken a novel approach by filing lawsuits under a public nuisance theory. Under this theory, workers allege employers are creating a public harm by failing to protect employees from contracting COVID-19, and therefore can seek injunctions which would force employers to implement stricter safety precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and therefore ensure public safety.
Obviously, health and safety concerns must be addressed quickly so workers can continue to work in safe environments and reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. Employers must protect their employees from all hazards in the workplace, and if they fail to ensure proper procedures, workers must seek quick remedies not only for their own health, but for the health and safety of their families and the public.
Employees of McDonald’s Allege a Public Safety Risk
Workers in Chicago allege several local McDonald’s restaurants have failed to implement appropriate safeguards. By placing workers at risk of contracting COVID-19, the workers argue that the employers therefore pose a risk to public safety. Specifically, employees allege they lack sufficient personal protection equipment (PPE) including masks and gloves; reported crowded work spaces that does not allow for proper social distancing; and failed to notify employees when co-workers tested positive for the virus. Five employees of four Chicago area McDonald’s restaurants filed a lawsuit in May which led to a court issuing an injunction and ordering McDonald’s to implement stricter safety protocols and training. While the judge declined to find McDonald’s acted negligently, Judge Eve Reilly held that the four restaurants identified in the lawsuit failed to ensure appropriate safety precaution to protect employees and the public from COVID-19 and therefore “endangering public health.”
Similarly, a judge in Alameda County granted a temporary court order requiring a McDonald’s franchisee in Oakland, CA to increase protective measures after employees filed a lawsuit alleging sick employees were required to work despite having symptoms of COVID-19. Moreover, employees allege that they were not provided masks and were forced to make masks out of coffee filters. The employees went on strike in May, and filed a lawsuit in June. A judge quickly ordered the restaurant to implement protective measures that included social distancing, sufficient PPE and employee temperature checks.
McDonald’s operates approximately 14,000 restaurants in the United States, and employees should consult an experienced labor law attorney if they are being placed at risk due to inadequate safety protocols at work.
Amazon Workers Claim Inadequate Contact Tracing Harms the Public
A federal lawsuit filed in New York by employees of Amazon allege the online retailer failed to implement appropriate safety measures to protect workers and the public from contracting COVID-19. Specifically, employees of an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, NY claim that Amazon did not provide adequate PPE, penalized workers for time spent washing hands, and failed to follow proper contract tracing to stop the spread of the virus. For example, one employee claims in the lawsuit filed in June that despite being in close contact with a supervisor that contracted COVID-19, the employee was required to report to work the next day. This was inconsistent with safety guidelines issued by health agencies including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which would require isolation, and creates a risk of spreading the virus to the employee and the public.
In July, the employees withdrew a request for a preliminary injunction after Amazon assured employees that they would not be penalized for time needed to wash their hands or take other preventative safety measures in the workplace. In other words, productivity would not be reduced when employees took time to wash their hands pursuant to CDC guidelines. The other claims remain in dispute including whether Amazon has proper contact tracing procedures in place and whether the company’s paid leave policies was complaint to state law.
With the upcoming holidays, Amazon is known to hire as many as 200,000 seasonal employees to meet the increase in sales. This holiday season will be the first since the pandemic started, so workers should understand that they have rights and employers must ensure their safety at work. Moreover, if a worker requests that proper safety guidelines required by health agencies such as the CDC be followed at work or files a complaint, the employer may not retaliate against the employee. If you feel unsafe at work, speak to an experienced labor law attorney to protect your rights and ensure your safety, as well as the safety of the public.
Srourian Law Firm, with locations in Los Angeles, Westwood, Woodland Hills, and Orange County is experienced in all aspects of employment law including health and safety violations in the workplace, and have aggressively represented employees in Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Orange, Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Tustin, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Garden Grove, Laguna Niguel, Brea, Fountain Valley, Aliso Viejo, Yorba Linda, Westminster, Laguna Hills, Cypress, and La Habra.
If you or someone you know suffered employment violations due to health and safety violations, you may have certain employee rights under state and federal law, and may be entitled to compensation as a part of the class action lawsuit. Please contact us to speak with one of our lawyers for a free consultation.