Five McDonald's workers in Chicago filed a class action lawsuit on Tuesday, accusing McDonalds of failing to adopt government safety guidance on COVID-19 and endangering employees and their families. According to the lawsuit, the employer failed to provide adequate hand sanitizer, gloves and masks, and failed to properly notify its staff when coworkers test positive for COVID-19.  Separately, McDonald's workers at multiple California locations filed administrative actions over allegedly unsafe conditions with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
Walmart Inc and meat producers JBS SA and Tyson Foods Inc were each sued over employee deaths from COVID-19. Likewise, Smithfield Foods Inc was sued by a workers group demanding safety measures in a lawsuit that, like the McDonald's case, alleged the company was a public nuisance. The Smithfield lawsuit was dismissed because the judge said workplace conditions were a matter for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
What should employers do to prevent similar COVID-19 claims?
  1. Develop and implement a Pandemic Preparedness and Response Playbook that's tailored for your workplace and jurisdictions.
  2. Conduct COVID-19 training that's acknowledged by all office workers.
  3. Create forms to protect the workforce, including but not limited to: (1) Exposure Notice, (2) Safety Self-Assessment, (3) Temperature Check Consent Form (for offices conducting temperature checks), and (4) Policy on Face Coverings in the Office.  
  4. Notify your worker's compensation carrier immediately if an employee believes he or she became ill with COVID-19 due to exposure at work.
  5. Follow CDC and OSHA guidance closely, and prominently display notice posters regarding hand-washing and social distancing.
  6. Relax your attendance policies to ensure workers can stay home when sick without suffering any adverse employment action.
  7. Require that employees state their COVID-19-related concerns and accommodation requests in writing. This will prevent he-said-she-said lawsuit allegations later.
  8. Strictly abide by your policies on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and state leave entitlement laws. When someone is sick with COVID-19 (which is a "serious medical condition" under the FMLA) or requires an ADA accommodation (e.g., when the employee is immune compromised), trigger the proper paperwork and interactive dialogue to determine the legal next steps.
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