Coronavirus Employment Claim Attorneys: Negligent Exposure and Wrongful Termination
As the COVID-19 has spread across the United States, many states, counties and cities have issued lock-down orders or orders to shelter in place. In other words, under these orders, only essential businesses may remain open, and they should conduct business in such a way as to minimize exposure to the novel Coronavirus. Employers and employees also have been confronted with involuntary layoffs and even terminations because of these orders. Nevertheless, employers or hospitals who remain open have certain duties to their employees to keep them safe at work. These Coronavirus employment issues include avoiding negligent exposure of employees to the novel Coronavirus as well as wrongful termination of employees. We urge you to contact one of our Coronavirus employment attorneys today to discuss your matter.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act advances employee safety. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) administrates the Act. The Act imposes a legal duty on an employer to provide a safe and healthy workplace for the employee. If an employee is reasonably likely to become exposed to the novel coronavirus at his or her place of work, then OSHA requires the employer to develop a plan to help protect its employees. With respect to coronavirus employment, such a plan might include:
- Conducting employee awareness training about the nature of the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease that it causes. This training might include informing employees of the primary symptoms of the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the primary symptoms of a COVID-19 infection are fever, a cough and shortness of breath.
- Determining when and under what circumstances personal protective equipment such as masks or gloves are necessary to prevent infection by the novel coronavirus and transmission of COVID-19.
- Constructing a system by which employees and supervisors can report potential infection or the need for medical surveillance.
- Maintaining records and documentation of these actions, including medical records which must be preserved.
- Recording on the OSHA 300 log any illnesses that are occupationally related.
But perhaps the most important measure to protect employees from exposure to disease is to send them home when they are sick or have been exposed although not symptomatic. Only by following these procedures will the employer avoid liability for negligent exposure to the novel coronavirus.
Coronavirus Related Wrongful Termination Claims Lawyer
Although there are federal statutes such as OSHA that protect workers, in many instances, state law is the determining factor when the issue is whether a worker has been wrongly terminated. Some states, such as Texas, California, Florida, Louisiana, New York and others, follow the “employment-at-will” doctrine which states that an employer may discharge an employee “for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all.” The only limitation on the employment-at-will doctrine is that an employer may not discharge an employee for an illegal reason, such as discrimination by race, color, religion, sex or national origin, forbidden by Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.
In other states, such as California, the employment-at-will doctrine does not apply. In particular, California sometimes safeguards employees who have become ill from being fired by employers. But these types of safeguards tend to be specifically targeted. For example, California’s Employment Development Department has stated that an employer may legally discharge an individual who works in the food processing industry “if the person is infected with any contagious, infectious, or communicable disease which can be transmitted by the food involved.” The employer would not be liable for termination unless the employer did not have a leave of absence policy and no other position was available that the employee could safely take.
Whether an employer may legally terminate an employee is highly specific to state law. A lawyer should be consulted to determine whether an employee who is discharged because of Coronavirus may be legally terminated.
Another coronavirus employment issue is the extent to which an employee could be eligible for an award of workers’ compensation. The employee might have to miss work for a while because of the COVID-19 disease or might have been discharged for coming down with it. The question, in cases like these, is whether the disease arose out of or in the course of the employee’s employment or whether the employee contracted the disease outside of employment. It might be difficult, for example, to prove that a worker contracted the novel coronavirus from employment if the worker performed his duties in an office. But if the person who contracted the novel coronavirus was a healthcare worker and therefore exposed to the disease every day, the chances of a workers’ compensation claim being successful would be greatly enhanced.
If you or a loved one has contracted COVID-19 by negligent exposure at work, or has been terminated because of contracting the disease, you should consult with an experienced employment lawyer once you have recovered.