Can I Sue My Employer For Failing To Protect Me From Covid-19?
If you got coronavirus because your employer did not take reasonable steps to protect your from exposure, you could sue them.
Unfortunately, even if you are not a doctor or a nurse, you can still catch coronavirus at work. Your employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure their employees are safe. It will be difficult to get workers’ compensation for Covid-19 because it is a pandemic. However, you can still sue your employer.
When Does Workers’ Compensation Laws Rule Out Lawsuits?
In most cases, illness or injury in the workplace means you can only claim benefits through workers’ compensation. You will not be allowed to sue your employer for additional losses and damages. However, there are a few exceptions which would allow an employee to sue their employer for a workplace injury or illness.
- Your employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance
- A third party caused your illness
- Your illness is as a result of your employer’s intentional wrongdoing
If infectious illnesses are not covered by workers’ compensation in your state, then you may be able to sue your employer if you contract coronavirus on the job.
Brad Nakase, Attorney
Can I File a Lawsuit Against an Employer Who Deliberately Ignored Safety Measures?
There have been numerous complaints of employers putting their employees at risk of exposure in the workplace due to:
- Failing to provide PPE such as masks
- Failing to take reasonable steps such as changing the schedule and workplace to allow social distancing
- Failing to sanitize the workplace after employees test positive for the virus
Whether you can sue your employer for failing to take reasonable steps in the midst of a global pandemic will depend on your state laws and the interpretation of the court.
In some states, an employer is only seen as committing “intentional wrong” if their actions were meant to harm employees. A failure to provide adequate protection from coronavirus would not be considered intentional wrongdoing under this interpretation.
In other states, the “intentional wrongdoing” exception is interpreted to mean that it is reasonable to assume that harm would come to employees from the actions or lack of actions. Even if this is the case, it is hard to say how a judge will view this in the light of COVID-19 and how the ever-changing government guidelines would affect the decision.
The Jones Act allows you to sue your employer if you work as a crew member on a cruise ship. Your claim will be that your employer negligently failed to provide a reasonably safe place to work. For example, the Celebrity Cruises crewmembers filed a class-action lawsuit which claimed their employer failed to take basic safety precautions such as social distancing and providing employees with facemasks. Their lawsuit showed that these actions were still not taken after the cruise line was aware that there was probably COVID-19 spreading on its ships.
Legal Alternatives to Address COVID-19 Hazards at Work
If you are concerned that the conditions in your workplace put you at a heightened risk for contracting coronavirus, you should speak to your employer. If your employer does not make any changes, then you can file a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. They have unfortunately been terrible at responding to COVID-19 related complaints, but it will put your case in good legal stead. Plus, your employer is not able to retaliate against you for filing a complaint with OSHA.
Pandemic or no, you have rights to a safe workplace. You have the right to refuse to work in hazardous conditions if you are in imminent danger. If you are fired for refusing to work in hazardous conditions, then you may sue for wrongful termination. In California, if you quit because your employer created an unsafe workplace, you can sue for wrongful constructive termination.
Public Nuisance Lawsuits Against Employers
Workers at Amazon and McDonald’s have sued their employers for endangering the public by failing to take reasonable steps to protect employees and customers. Some of these lawsuits have requested that the court ask the employer to fix the unsafe work environment, but others have requested damages for the employees.
Getting Legal Help
Guidelines and decisions regarding the pandemic are constantly changing, and options for employees seeking workers’ compensation may change. Employers are pressuring the government to protect them from lawsuits if their employees get sick with coronavirus. However, if your employer negligently or intentionally caused an environment with a high likelihood of you getting sick, then you should be able to seek legal action. Speak to an employment lawyer who is familiar with workers’ compensation and personal injury to discuss your options.