Monday, February 22, 2021

Coronavirus Update 2-22-2021: Get ready for the glut of Covid whistleblower tag-along claims

The headline reads, "Ex-Manager Sues Ample Hills in Lawsuit Alleging Harassment and Unsafe COVID-19 Protocols" (emphasis mine).

Here's the lede:

Bryce Mottram, a former general manager at one of quirky ice cream purveyor Ample Hills' scoop shops, has filed a lawsuit in New York Eastern District Court alleging that he was fired from the company in retaliation for speaking up about instances of sexual harassment and unsafe COVID-19 workplace protocols at the company.

I firmly believe that for the next year-plus, just about every employment-related lawsuit will contain a COVID-19 whistleblower tag-along claim. 

In other words, employees will sue for discrimination and safety-related retaliation, or harassment and safety-related retaliation, or breach of contract and safety-related retaliation, or fill-in-the blank and safety-related retaliation. I've already seen it happen in cases, and it makes an already complicated employment dispute that much more complicated and dangerous.

This likely reality means that employers must double-down on implementing and enforcing COVID-19 safety rules in the workplace. Have a written COVID-19 safety policy and strictly enforce it. If you don't know what should be in this policy, OSHA recently published a terrific guide.

  • Separate and send home infected or potentially infected people from the workplace.
  • Implement physical distancing in all communal work areas, including remote work and telework.
  • Install barriers where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Suppress the spread of the hazard using appropriate and properly worn face coverings.
  • Improve ventilation.
  • Provide the supplies necessary for good hygiene practices.
  • Perform routine cleaning and disinfection.
These points are just a start, and I recommend you consult with OSHA counsel or a COVID-19-knowledgable safety consultant to draft and implement your plan (including training your employees).

* Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay