The EPLI Exposures of Returning to Work

May 21, 2020
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Some businesses that closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic will never reopen. For those businesses that have survived the crisis so far, the ability to return to work is a welcome relief. However, as businesses reopen, they risk exposing their employees to the virus – and they risk exposing themselves to employment practices liability lawsuits.

Lawsuits Alleging Unsafe Work Environments

Due to the highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus, workers face a very real risk of getting sick. In some cases, these workers may sue their employers for creating an unsafe work environment.

In fact, we have already started to see these lawsuits.

  • Walmart has been hit with a wrongful death lawsuit after an employee died from COVID-19. According to Forbes, a second employee from the same store died several days later, and the lawsuit claims that Walmart did not develop appropriate preventative measures and did not respond appropriately when an employee showed symptoms.
  • McDonald’s is being sued by five workers in Chicago and four of their family members. According to CNBC, the lawsuit alleges that the restaurant is not providing enough masks, gloves or hand sanitizer.
  • JBS S.A., a meat producer, is being sued by the family of an employee who died from COVID-19. According to the New York Times, the lawsuit says that the company caused his death by failing to protect him from the virus.

Additionally, in California, Governor Newsom has signed an executive order granting workers’ compensation presumption for COVID-19. This will make it easier for workers who become sick to file claims.

Lawsuits Alleging Wrongful Termination

Some employees have been complaining about dangerous work conditions. If these employees are fired or face other disciplinary actions, they may decide to sue. It’s not just a hypothetical risk, either – some of these lawsuits have already been seen.

  • A former employee is suing Amazon for wrongful termination. According to GeekWire, the employee alleges that she was wrongfully terminated after taking time off because she had symptoms associated with COVID-19 and after raising safety concerns.
  • Trader Joe’s is being sued for wrongful termination. According to Fox News, the lawsuit alleges that a man was wrongfully terminated after expressing safety concerns in a private Facebook group for store employees.

Resources to Limit Risks

Businesses must proceed carefully. Multiple resources can help you reduce your liability exposures as you reopen.

  • The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a list of resources related to COVID-19. The question and answer document provides important information on ADA requirements regarding health screenings, accommodations and discrimination. 
  • The CDC has released interim guidance for businesses and employers. This resource is being updated occasionally with new recommendations and clarifications, so check back occasionally for the latest information.
  • Back to Work Safely is a website sponsored by AIHA. It contains industry-specific safety guidelines for bars, restaurants, construction, retail, offices and more.
  • Check with your city, county and state for orders and recommendations related to the pandemic.

Have questions about employment practices liability insurance? Contact Heffernan Insurance Brokers.