From the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have played a critical role in their communities through their efforts to protect employees. While businesses have always been responsible for maintaining a safe workplace, the obligation has grown increasingly complex with evolving guidance from federal and local governments as well as agencies like the CDC, OSHA, and the EEOC.
Many organizations have done all they possibly can to promote employee health and adjust leave policies, educate teams on new processes and behavior, and ensure the working environment is as safe as it can be. However, in some cases, individuals believe their employers didn't do enough.
A growing number of complaints and lawsuits have been filed by individuals arguing that their employers did not adequately respond to COVID-19. As of October 30th, law firm Fisher Phillips documented 927 employer-employee litigation related to COVID-19 in the US, (Up 52% from 487 on August 13th) including 204 accusing employers of “Retaliation/Whistleblower” and 67 for "Negligence/Wrongful Death" or "Unsafe Workplace". The Wall Street Journal has highlighted some of the most tragic cases, where families of deceased employees have sued employers like Walmart Inc., Safeway Inc., and Tyson Foods Inc, stating that the organizations failed to adequately protect their loved ones.
According to law firm Ogletree Deakins, employers looking to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 related lawsuits should take actions such as reviewing internal policies on topics ranging from leave to anti-discrimination, educating company leaders on such policies, deploying a COVID-19 safety plan, ensuring confidentiality and appropriate protection in any form of health screening, and actively monitoring evolving legislation. For a full list of recommendations, see Ogletree Deakins' FAQs on employment legislation and litigation.
Most importantly, the pandemic has offered employers an opportunity to serve and protect employees in a unique and profound way. The choices employers make and the effectiveness of their policies and communication have the potential to meaningfully impact the physical and emotional health of employees, and employers should seize the chance to do all they can for their teams.
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