Wrongful Termination, Workplace Retaliation, and Unsafe Work Environment Claims During COVID-19

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Staff of an office under protective measures against outbreak.

The novel virus that has been deemed Covid-19 has certainly upended life as we know it. The world has been put on pause in a way that very few, if any, people alive today have ever witnessed. And as the world sputters back to life and business attempts to return to some version of normal, we’ve seen many new issues arise in the area of employment and labor law.

As employers struggle to keep their businesses alive, employees struggle to keep their jobs while also maintaining the health of themselves and their families. We need to get back to work, but we also need to stay healthy – and the exact method by which we should do these two seemingly opposing things is currently being hotly debated. But when an employer and an employee do not see eye to eye on the proper course of action, issues arise that can end up in a courtroom.

Dangerous Work Environment

The General Duties Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 states that employers:

“[S]hall furnish to each of his employees’ employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees…”

The above duty, which is always in place, is even more important during this pandemic to protect the health of essential workers. In response to the increased need, employers have instituted policies such as:

  • Sanitizing all workspaces frequently
  • Redesigning workspaces to limit person to person contact
  • Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees

Some businesses have been quick to enact such policies, but others have lagged behind. If you work for a business that has failed to implement the proper procedures or provide the personal protective equipment necessary for you to stay healthy, you may have suffered as a result. Here are a couple of ways you may have suffered, and what you can do about it.

Workplace Retaliation

An employee in full protective equipment.If you work in a place that is not adhering to Covid-19 related safety standards and you report this to OSHA, you may be in for some hurdles. It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for reporting them for unsafe work conditions – even before Covid-19 came onto the scene – and it is still illegal for them to do it now. But hospitals around the country, and even the retail giant Amazon, have fired people for going public with their concerns about lack of proper protective equipment.

But even before being terminated, employer retaliation can take many forms. Your boss may cut your hours. They may make it difficult for you to do your job or set you up for a failure that they can then use as an excuse to fire you. Whatever form retaliation takes, if it happens, you may have a legal claim. This is particularly true if you have a pre-existing condition that makes you more susceptible to serious illness if you get the virus. If you have an ailment that is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you may qualify for even greater protection from retaliation, based on your request for safe working conditions.

Wrongful Termination Amidst Covid-19

We said that retaliation can take many forms once you expose your employer for not providing proper working conditions, and one such form is termination. We have already seen cases like this arise – like the case in Chicago where nursing home workers were suspended or fired for speaking out about the lack of PPE. There have been numerous other doctors who have spoken out about the fact that they were threatened with termination if they spoke out about the lack of protective gear, and a nurse was fired for simply telling a co-worker on social media that she would like a more protective mask while working. If you end up getting fired because you demanded PPE and/or a more carefully sanitized working environment, you may have a cause of action for wrongful termination.

We Can Help

At Smithey Law Group LLC, we are passionate about providing the highest quality representation to our clients, and we pride ourselves in using our extensive legal knowledge and experience to work toward the very best outcomes for our clients.  Whatever the labor or employment law matters for which you need representation, we would welcome the opportunity to speak with you and to learn how we might be able to help. Contact us today.