Employers May See Lawsuits Filed by Associates Who Become Sick

We’re going to see a surprise growth industry as employers being calling their associates back to work: I think we’ll see more lawsuits filed by people who become sick.

Given the litigious nature of our society, I have absolutely no doubt we’re going to see more plaintiff lawsuits and retaliatory lawsuits. Because of our tort laws, you can sue anyone for anything at any time. And as people get sick, employers may be held liable for things like negligence, failure to prevent or require certain behaviors (e.g. requiring masks, no large groups, offering health screenings, etc.), and whether they actually did or didn’t take any protective measures.

What may exacerbate the problem is that while some people are making unemployment wages (up to $600 per week), if they return to work for less money, they might be disgruntled about it. In some cases, $600 is more than their average weekly wage, and they’re not going to like giving that up.

People wearing face masks. Employers may see a rash of lawsuits from employees who are forced to return to work and then get sick.I’ve been thinking about how companies can reconcile getting people back to work for less money than they were making by not working, and how can they help keep people on the payroll. To make matters worse, some associates are not only coming back to work at the lower wage, but their hours are also being reduced, so they make even less than before.

If these associates are operating an essential business on reduced hours, you’re going to have some very unhappy people who are looking to recapture their higher wages, because it was so much easier and much less dangerous.

I think a lot of associates will become disgruntled and start looking for reasons to either use OSHA or the Department of Labor to file for unfair labor practices, safety violations, and so on, just to have something to complain about and be angry about. After all, there are no clear guidelines on how to operate during COVID-19, which means anything could be fair game for a complaint.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to solving this problem, but each company will have to tackle it on their own and do what’s best for them and their people. The government’s efforts to be helpful and generous with people have been kind of at odds with the small businesses that are trying to meet their own objectives. Unless you’re someone like Amazon who can afford to give bonuses to your people, other businesses have to manage on the cash flow they have, even if it’s diminished quite considerably.

There are no statutory guidelines about how to distance people or require masks. You only have to see the news to see that we’re facing a major infection upswing in Arizona, Florida, and right here in Texas. And there’s story after story of people who are refusing to wear masks, even when a private company requires it on their own property. The rules and practices should come down to fundamental common sense, but the news has shown us that it’s anything but common.

And because of all this chaos, and because there are no statutory rules, only inconsistently created and enforced company policies, if someone gets the virus, they can sue their employer or the retailer for having an unsafe environment.

This isn’t the time for enrichment though. Despite the negative news we have seen, I’ve seen example after example of companies doing what’s best for their neighbor, their community, and the country at large. Companies have stepped up and pivoted on their corporate mission, creating work opportunities for their associates, making sure those people still have work. And they’re offering products and services at discounted rates to help other companies and individuals still function and live on their own as well.

I can only hope that companies will do what they can to create safe work environments, create policies that protect everyone in the operation, and protect themselves from trigger-happy plaintiff’s attorneys.

I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business, including pivoting within their industry. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Photo credit: GustavoFring (Pexels.com, Creative Commons 0)

Author: David Marshall
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.