- Pilgrim's Pride has been taken to court by an employee claiming the meat processor disregarded worker safety and failed to protect employees from the known dangers of the coronavirus (Elijah, et al. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., No. 5:21-cv-00047 (E.D. Texas, April 21, 2021)).
- Plaintiffs behind the lawsuit alleged the employer failed to provide personal protective equipment and neglected to implement sufficient safety measures to protect workers from the COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in several workers being infected with the coronavirus which, in some instances, led to their death or the death of spouses. The complaint alleges that in May 2020, more than 400 people contracted the coronavirus from exposure at Pilgrim's Pride facilities.
- The company did not require mask wearing until the end of May 2020, the same timeframe when they first made hand sanitizer available for workers, the plaintiffs said. It was not until earlier that same month that the company used social distance barriers, according to the complaint.
The pandemic is generating lawsuits. Many of the legal actions focus on wage and hour violations, but several of them focus on unsafe working conditions or lack of personal protective equipment.
Amazon, one of the nation's largest employers, has been sued by workers over the company's response to the pandemic. One family is suing an Illinois Walmart after a family member and former Walmart employee died after contracting the virus. A former Kroger employee took the grocer to court after she was fired from an Indiana store for self-isolating because of fears that she was infected with COVID-19. Stylists at the Hair Cuttery claimed the nationwide chain of hair salons violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and state law by withholding pay for the work performed just before the salons shuttered at the beginning of the pandemic.
Law firm Fisher Phillips previously recommended several steps employers can take to avoid being the recipient of such claims:
- Managers should be trained to understand their responsibilities and employee rights.
- HR personnel and managers should be trained on new leave law requirements.
- A comprehensive safety plan should be developed and communicated to employees as they return to the workplace.
- As the pandemic unfolds, employers should try to anticipate the various wage and hour responsibilities that might come into play.
Employers can also turn to guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The EEOC, for example, has released several pieces of guidance since the onset of the pandemic that answer common employer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal agency has made clear, among other things, that employers may take workers' temperatures and ask about symptoms without violating nondiscrimination laws but may not require antibody tests.