During May and June, there was an interesting increase in the number of COVID-19-related workplace lawsuits. Both federal and state courts have seen over 2,000 COVID-19-related cases filed. One of the more interesting trends, particularly of note for employers, HR, and management is the uptick in the number of wage and hour claims in which are related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees also filed claims related to exposure to the coronavirus and claims relating to safety in the workplace. Here is a rundown of the type of case businesses are facing as they are struggling to reopen. Employers should be aware of the laws surrounding these issues to protect their workers and avoid litigation.
Paid Leave Lawsuits
The provisions of The Families First Coronavirus Response Act remain in effect through December 20, 2020. The act provides two weeks of paid sick leave and an additional ten weeks of leave for employees who need to stay at home due to school and childcare closures related to COVID-19. However, some employees are filing legal cases against their employers, claiming that they were denied the leave they were entitled to or that they were victims of retaliation for requesting leave. As an employer, you would be wise to ensure that your leave provisions meet all federal and state mandates.
Workplace Discrimination Lawsuits
As employees are beginning to return to work, legal experts are expecting to see an increase in discrimination cases, particularly related to pregnancy and age. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission clearly states that employers cannot prevent pregnant or older employees from returning to work if they desire to. Employees should avoid trying to prevent older and pregnant employees from returning to the workplace, even though you may feel you are acting in their best interest due to COVID-19. Employers who would like to find out more about workplace protection rules and how to help high-risk employees can get information here.
Wage and Hour Lawsuits
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many business owners have allowed their employees to work from home. We are now seeing a rise in claims that employers have failed to pay sufficient wages or failed to pay overtime. Employers who are allowing their employees to work remotely should state their expectations clearly in writing to avoid future conflict or litigation. Using time management software can help you and your employees keep track of the hours that remote employees spend on work-related tasks. As an employer, you should also clearly communicate your expectations to employees regarding their need to obtain approval for working overtime. You should also be aware of any state regulations that require you to reimburse employees for necessary business-related expenses such as office supplies and Wi-Fi costs.
Layoff Notice Lawsuits
Many companies both large and small have had to downsize their staff because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If the coronavirus has not affected your business in this way, it may still do so in the future. Employers should be aware of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification. The WARN Act mandates that employers may have to provide at least 60 days’ notice to employees who are being furloughed for an extended period or those who are being laid off because the business is closing.
A plaintiff who is making a WARN Act claim must be able to show that:
- A business closed resulting in the termination of at least 50 full-time workers or
- At least 500 full-time workers at the company were terminated or
- At least 50 full-time workers lost their jobs and the total amount of employees laid off exceeds one-third of the total number of employees at the company.
Workers’ Compensation Lawsuits
As the number of workers infected by COVID-19 continues to rise, so does the number of workers’ compensation filings. Legal experts are expecting more claims from infected employees and families of employees who have died from the virus, alleging that the employee contracted the virus at work. Some states have already passed legislation making it easier for employees to file successful claims of this nature. To protect workers and minimize their exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, employers should implement rigorous safety policies and make sure all employees are aware of them.