COVID-19 employment related lawsuits have begun

Posted Apr 25, 2020 by Tim Sandle
It was perhaps inevitable that COVID-19 would start to spill over into employee relations and employment law. Legal trends suggest that employer-related litigation in relation to the viral pandemic is starting to rise.
A drive-through coronavirus testing lab in West Palm Beach  Florida -- the United States has the thi...
A drive-through coronavirus testing lab in West Palm Beach, Florida -- the United States has the third-highest number of confirmed cases globally, behind China and Italy
Employers need to consider legal advice as the number of cases of coronavirus related employee action rises, according to lawyer Nick Oberheiden in a communication sent to Digital Journal. Many staff will be concerned about the impact of the virus on them, their families and friends and their work, and employers need to think carefully about what is appropriate provision and in terms of the appropriate protective measures.
As an example of the rise in cases, Forbes has reported that thousands of workers have filed complaints against employers not providing suitable protection for them in relation to avoiding viral transmission.
These cases have been brought under the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The Act contains a general duty clause, whereby employers must “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
Man wearing face mask during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Man wearing face mask during the COVID-19 outbreak.
To highlight the extent of claims that are brewing, Oregon’s workplace safety agency has recorded in excess of 2,000 complaints across a two-week period. This is, Oregon Public Radio reports, as many as the agency normally receives in an average year.
As an example of the types of cases that seem set to emerge, the first wrongful death lawsuit relating to an employee dying from complications of COVID-19, allegedly contracted while at work has been filed. This case was lodged on April 6, 2020, when the estate of Wando Evans took out a claim against Wal-Mart asserting negligence and “willful and wanton misconduct and reckless disregard” for the health and safety of employees. Central to the case is the charge that lack of employer action led to an employee contracting the coronavirus infection and developing COVID-19 symptoms (with the employee eventually dying). Evans, aged 51, had worked for Wal-Mart for 15 years.
Perhaps to off-set any future litigation, Walmart has now begun installing “sneeze guards” at registers and the company has begun providing protective masks to any employees who request them.