Workers Turn to Courts to Enforce COVID-19 Safety Guidelines

June 09, 2020

As citizens across the United States continue to shelter in place to slow the spread of the novel Coronavirus, workers at grocery stores, department stores, pharmacies, parcel delivery services, and other essential businesses have been forced onto the frontlines, constantly putting their health at risk.  In some cases, these essential workers do so without adequate safety measures in place.  Essential workers have taken various steps to try to obtain the workplace protections they need, including lobbying Congress for an “Essential Workers’ Bill of Rights,” as well as staging nationwide strikes, protests, walk-offs, and sick-outs.

In the face of inaction by their employers, some workers have taken their efforts a step further by asking courts to intervene.  For example, in Illinois, a group of fast food workers filed a proposed class action alleging that McDonald’s and several of its Chicago franchises mismanaged safety protocols, causing unsafe conditions that endangered public health.  The unsafe practices allegedly include forcing employees to work in close quarters with one another and reuse dirty masks or gloves, if they were provided with such protective gear at all.  The workers also allege that McDonald’s prohibits them from discussing colleagues who have contracted COVID-19 or called out sick.  Last week, the Illinois court denied a motion to dismiss by McDonald’s, which argued that the workers were required to raise the dispute with regulatory agencies, resulting in a significant win for the plaintiffs and other workers who hope they can obtain workplace protections from COVID-19 through the courts.

Amazon was recently hit with a similar lawsuit in New York, alleging that the online retail giant’s failure to implement proper safety protocols in its Staten Island warehouse caused the death of one of its workers and caused several others to bring COVID-19 home to their families.  Like the McDonald’s plaintiffs, those in the Amazon lawsuit seek various injunctive relief measures under a theory of public nuisance and breach of a duty to protect employee health and safety.  

As states across the country begin permitting businesses to reopen, further disputes regarding the sufficiency of employer safety measures are sure to arise, and actions like those recently filed against McDonald’s and Amazon are perhaps a harbinger for future litigation as a means to obtain adequate employee protections.  

We encourage employees with questions about their ever-evolving rights during the COVID-19 pandemic to check the Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP Workers’ Guide to COVID-19 periodically for information and updates.

About Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP

Faruqi & Faruqi focuses on complex civil litigation, including securities, antitrust, employment, personal injury, and consumer class actions. The firm is headquartered in New York, and maintains offices in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Georgia and California. Since its founding in 1995, Faruqi & Faruqi continues to serve as lead or co-lead counsel in high-profile cases that ultimately provide significant recoveries to investors, consumers and employees.

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About Alex Hartzband

Alex Hartzband's practice is focused on employment litigation. Alex is a senior associate in the firm's New York office.

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Posted by Alex Hartzband

Senior Associate at Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP
New York Office
Tel: (212) 983-9330
Fax: (212) 983-9331
Email: ahartzband@faruqilaw.com
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