Employers in the United States are required by law to maintain a safe environment for their employees to work in and that includes providing proper protections against pathogens and infectious diseases, like COVID-19. If you believe that you are at risk for COVID-19 due to unsafe or unsanitary conditions at work and you aren’t sure how to address the problem, or if you reported a workplace safety violation and your employer fired you or took other retaliatory action against you, contact our consumer advocates at the Consumer Justice Foundation today. We are committed to protecting the rights of workers nationwide during the COVID-19 public health crisis and we can help put you in touch with an experienced employment law attorney who can help you determine the best course of action based on your specific circumstances.
Under workers’ compensation laws, most employees are barred from suing their employer in court for an injury or illness they sustain at work. With workers’ compensation insurance, you don’t have to prove that your employer was at fault to collect benefits for medical bills and a portion of your lost wages. However, you also generally aren’t allowed to file a lawsuit against your employer. That being said, there are certain situations in which a worker can sue his or her employer outside of workers’ compensation for a workplace injury or illness. An example would be if your employer showed a complete disregard for your safety or if your injury or illness occurred because of your employer’s serious and willful misconduct or intentional act. Or, if your injury or illness was caused by a third party, i.e. the manufacturer of defective PPE, you may be able to sue that party in court. If this is the case, you can hire an attorney to pursue financial compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, pain and suffering and other related damages.
Federal and state laws require employers to maintain a safe and healthy work environment free from known hazards and that includes providing employees with PPE to minimize their exposure to workplace dangers and infectious agents, such as COVID-19. In one federal lawsuit filed in April 2020 against Smithfield Foods, one of the largest meat producers in the United States, a plant worker identified as Jane Doe and a plant worker advocacy group accused the company of various health and safety violations amid COVID-19, including failing to provide workers with sufficient PPE, forcing workers to work shoulder to shoulder despite social distancing recommendations, failing to give workers sufficient opportunities to wash their hands to minimize the spread of COVID-19, discouraging workers from taking sick leave and failing to implement a plan for COVID-19 testing.
All employees have the right to a safe work environment. Unfortunately, based on reports from workers across the country, many employees believe that their employers aren’t doing enough to protect them from the threat of COVID-19. If you believe unsafe conditions exist in your workplace, your first step should be to bring your concerns to your employer’s attention. If your employer refuses to do what is necessary to make the workplace safe for you and your co-workers, you can file a complaint with OSHA or, in certain cases, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit against your employer. If you think you have an unsafe workplace claim but you aren’t certain how to proceed, you can benefit from speaking to an experienced employment law attorney who can evaluate your claim, explain your rights as an employee and walk you through the claims process. Contact our consumer advocates at the Consumer Justice Foundation today for help.