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The first wave of employment lawsuits against companies due to the coronavirus pandemic is sweeping through the United States, with lawsuits filed by workers claiming they contacted COVID-19 due to their employer’s negligence of the virus. This is a growing trend highlighting new debates over whether Congress should grant businesses liability protections, such as employment practices liability, during the ongoing pandemic.
The severe economic downturn, high unemployment rate, risk, fear, and uncertainty are components for what will certainly be an even more significant wave of COVID-19-related employment lawsuits in the future. As businesses move forward in this new normal, they must prepare to recognize the risks of lawsuits and related claims, mitigate those risks whenever possible, and defend the actions and decisions they took during the onset of the virus.
Here are the top employment lawsuit concerns amid COVID-19.
Whistleblowing and Retaliation
Whistleblower claims are likely to take on a new form with more urgency during the entire COVID-19 pandemic, as more employees will emphasize their employer’s failure to follow safety protocols.
Similarly, employees who seek COVID-19-related benefits under the various employment laws and are subject to adverse employment actions may claim retaliation under those statutes.
Disability discrimination lawsuits, brought under state and federal statutes, will include allegations related to forced leaves of absence, requests for leave due to COVID-19 concerns, and alleged failures to accommodate, including employees denied the opportunity to work from home.
Unsafe Working Conditions
Claims brought under the federal Occupational Safety and Hazard Act and state workers’ compensation laws feature allegations that unsafe workplaces have caused sickness and even death due to COVID-19. Additionally, these claims show that employers failed to take the right steps to properly and effectively clean and sanitize workplaces, and they failed to provide necessary protective equipment to keep employees safe.
Wage and Hour Claims
These claims involve allegations of failure to pay for hours worked before business closures due to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions. Employers can expect wage and hour lawsuits to relate to remote work by non-exempt employees, as well as time spent completing health screenings, tests mandated by employers as they reopen, and temperature checks.
How Can Employers Protect Themselves?
Based on the different ways your clients can potentially face a lawsuit, especially in an environment that’s still developing and evolving, they need to be aware and remain protected. This is a complex issue that is rapidly evolving. What’s more, there’s no end in sight at this point. Although there is no way to eliminate litigation risk, using the tips below can help reduce the risk of employee lawsuits.
- Have a Safety Plan: This plan should be communicated to all employees, top to bottom, and ensure compliance. Leaders from a company should investigate and address any reported concerns and document the process and outcome. These safety plans should include sanitation tips, hygiene expectations, and steps on how to report concerns or complaints.
- Keep Education a Priority: Management and HR staff should educate themselves on all policies, including anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and anti-retaliation. The appropriate steps should be communicated to management and HR concerning employee requests to utilize the policies or complaints about noncompliance.
- Invest in Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI): While the situation around COVID-19 is still changing, businesses should still operate with Employment Practices Liability Insurance. While the discussion around EPLI in the age of the novel coronavirus is complex, having this insurance provides peace of mind and preparation for the road ahead.
About Mavon Insurance
At Mavon Insurance, we pride ourselves on our unique approach to insurance. We focus on integrity, communication, professionalism, respect and gratitude to help our clients succeed, and place business in specialized markets. For more information about our products, or to become an agent, contact us today at (855) 248-1480.