Unemployment has been soaring in California and throughout the country in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as employees return to work, there have been numerous concerns raised about work safety, discrimination during layoffs and wage and hour disputes. Our Los Angeles employment attorneys predict a significant uptick in worker lawsuits against employers who violated their rights or treated them unfairly.
Several class actions are currently pending against government employers, salons and manufacturers, and it’s expected there will be more of these also. So far, most class action litigation to arise from the pandemic has come from the consumers, many of whom have been fighting for refunds or accusing some companies of price gouging. Ultimately though, employment litigation will likely surpass this.
Discrimination, WARN Act Violations
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates some 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began. Some of those who have been laid off or furloughed have complained that companies did so in a way that was discriminatory.
For example, if layoffs targeted older workers or those with health problems (who are reported to be at higher risk of more serious complications due to the novel coronavirus), that could be grounds for an employment discrimination lawsuit.
Los Angeles employment lawyers are also looking at possible WARN Act violations. WARN stands for Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification. This is the law that requires firms to give workers advance notice of massive layoffs. It is true that California decided to temporarily suspend WARN Act notice mandates, given the unprecedented health concern the pandemic presented. However, there could still be companies in violation – particularly if they failed to provide worker with certain benefits, like unpaid vacation time, or final wages.
Wage and Hour Violations
The federal Family First Coronavirus Response Act passed in March required companies with fewer than 500 workers to provide emergency paid sick leave OR medical leave if the virus impacted their ability to work. Employers who failed to do this could be sued.
Another potential area of litigation that may arise is from those who work remotely. Even if they aren’t on the job site, they are still entitled to things like meal breaks and overtime pay. If employers are asking workers to do complete work-related tasks on the weekends or evenings but not offering them pay or overtime to do so, they could run into trouble.
Other wage and hour violations alleged so far accuse employers of not paying for work performed during several weeks in March, prior to business closures.
Safety Concerns at Job Sites
California is beginning to reopen businesses throughout the state, but those that were considered essential were allowed to continue operating through the shutdown. However, some workers for public and private employers allege their safety has been imperiled by the lack of personal protected equipment and, in some cases, failure to offer hazard pay due to exposure to virulent biologicals. Among these are workers for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Bureau of Prisons, as well as warehouse employees and those working for meat processing plants.
Some employees are exploring litigation over the fact that public and private employers refused to extend an option to telecommute and also failed to implement modified work spaces and social distancing guidelines. Employers have a legal duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
Lawyers Predict a ‘Huge Explosion’ in Worker Class Actions Over COVID-19, April 16, 2020, By Amanda Bronstand, Law.com