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COVID-19 Workplace Issues: Employment Lawsuits amid the Pandemic

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Although lawsuits against businesses are quite rare, the COVID-19 crisis has revealed various workplace compliance issues. Employers are scrambling to navigate the crumbling business climate, which led them to disregard their employees’ welfare. As a result, employee-initiated litigation is in full swing because of the financial and economic challenges caused by the pandemic. This forced many businesses to hire a commercial law attorney to tackle concerns related to employment litigation.

Workplace compliance issues during the pandemic range from bias prevention, work-from-home arrangements, leaves of absence, and wage and hour laws. Employers who fail to follow the labor guidelines end up facing legal issues with a large sum of money at stake. Compliance issues are also emerging in various ways, and companies are dealing with various legal issues, such as salary reductions, furloughs, remote work, and reduction to work hours.

With all these COVID-19-related litigation, most people might think employers should find ways to avoid employment lawsuits. But in reality, it’s all about establishing trusting relationships with the workforce so employees will feel more comfortable discussing their employment concerns with their employers before it escalates to litigation.

With all these in mind, we’re looking back at some of the workplace issues that emerged during the pandemic and ways to mitigate the risk of employment lawsuits.

Discrimination claims

Amid the barrage of challenges caused by COVID-19, many companies have made difficult decisions concerning furloughs, terminations, return to work policies, and dealing with employees with disabilities or medical conditions.

Although discrimination claims are always a risk most companies face, the COVID-19 crisis has generated different levels of uncertainty both for employers and employees. For example, an employee filed a case in the New York federal court after suing her employers for discrimination and retaliation after claiming the company is using the pandemic as an excuse to fire her in response to her alleged complaints against a supervisor who sexually harassed her.

Employers must take time to document and evaluate the reason for the certain employment action, whether it’s related to furlough, layoff, or work arrangements. As much as possible, assess the situation first with legal counsel to create appropriate strategies and prevent such claims from the get-go.

Whistleblower and retaliation claims

Whistleblower and retaliation claims often complement safety claims in the workplace. These lawsuits and government investigations assert the employer terminated or disciplined the employee after raising work-related issues, such as working conditions, workplace safety, or leaves of absence because of COVID-19.

The possible damages may depend on the specific circumstances and applicable laws or policies covering the specific safety claim. Thus, employers must have an employment lawyer or any legal counsel before they respond or take action to the safety claim filed by the employee against them.

Workplace safety

work safety

Workplace safety issues became a widespread concern in almost every workplace during the pandemic. Although most companies have already observed workplace safety policies such as health screening, mask-wearing, and social distancing, others have been less cautious.

Since the pandemic, more employees have filed various safety claims, from failure to enact health-screening policies (e.g., symptoms screening and temperature checks), inability to provide complete personal protective equipment (PPE), and foregoing training use the PPE.

Safety claims gave way to various liabilities theories, such as claims related to traditional negligence, wrongful death, and violations of federal and state workplace safety laws and industry safety guidelines.

Mass layoffs

Because of the financial pressure, many employers made impulsive decisions with their staffing, which prompt them to make sudden layoffs, granted furloughs, or shut down a part or the entire operations.

Employment laws require companies to submit written notice in advance to employees and specific government agencies about conducting mass layoffs. The stakes are quite high because companies that fail to comply with the technical requirements of laying off employees could end up facing damages and civil penalties.

The uncertainty and the cost of such litigations can have a crushing effect, especially on small businesses. In this case, the employer must seek legal counsel to assess other feasible options to minimize the risk of potential damages.

Given all the lessons and difficult failures during the pandemic, it’s about time for employers to focus on providing a good company to their employees. Employees want to feel heard and cared for, which can only be possible if employers know how to build trust through honesty and transparency. Take note of our discussion above because the next time a new crisis emerges, you’ll be more ready to tackle these complaints with your employees.

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