Friday, November 20, 2020

Coronavirus Update 11-20-2020: The 12th nominee for the “worst employer of 2020” is … bad bettor

Do you remember that scene from The Deer Hunter where Christopher Walken plays Russian roulette in a betting parlor, while the patrons place bets on whether he'll live or die with every pull of the revolver's trigger? That's what I thought of as I read the allegations in Fernandez v. Tyson Foods, and not in a good way.

According to the lawsuit, while COVID-19 was running rampant through Tyson's Waterloo, Iowa, facility, the Plant Manager "organized a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many employees would test positive for COVID-19."

That's just the tip of the iceberg of allegations in this wrongful death lawsuit, originally filed by the family of the late Isidro Fernandez, one of at least five employees who died of the virus. Indeed, according to their local health department, more than 1,000 workers at the plant, representing over one-third of the total workforce, contracted the virus. The lawsuit claims that Tyson Food demonstrated a "willful and wanton disregard for workplace safety."

The recently filed amended complaint, which includes allegations concerning the betting pool, adds even more meat to the bone of these unsafe working conditions.

  • Despite the rampant spread of the virus within the plant, Tyson Foods required its employees to work long hours in cramped conditions without personal protective equipment and without following other workplace-safety measures.
  • In mid-April, just before the betting pool was created, the county sheriff visited the plant and reported that the working conditions inside "shook [him] to the core." 
  • An upper-level manager directed employees and supervisors to ignore COVID-19 symptoms, not to get tested, and to continue working, and supervisors falsely denied the existence of any confirmed cases or positive tests among the workforce.
  • Tyson paid $500 attendance bonuses, which actually incentivized sick employees to continue working.
  • All the while, managers avoided the plant floor for fear of contracting the virus, and executives lobbied Iowa's governor for COVID-related liability protections.

For it's part, Tyson Foods vehemently denies these allegations and suspended all managers accused of taking part in the betting pool (seven months after the fact).

If you place bets on which of your employees will contract a deadly virus, while you continue to take active steps that expose them to a greater risk of contracting that virus, you might be the Worst Employer of 2020. And thank you to all of my readers who sent me this very worthy nominee.