Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water (or stop sheltering in place anyway), a wave of COVID-19-related employment lawsuits are being filed across the country. At our last count, nearly 50 labor and employment-specific cases have been filed. The first in Oregon was filed earlier this month by a former assisted living facility employee who seeks $950,000 in damages for alleged whistleblower and sick leave retaliation. Although the types of claims being brought by employees are typical—wage/hour, whistleblower, contract, wrongful termination, protected leave and discrimination claims, WARN Act violations—employers now face a perfect storm: defending real-time decisions made to keep their businesses afloat against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has completely disrupted business operations. (And as we all know, “You can’t just call time out and stroll on into the beach if you don’t like the way things are going.”)
As we have mentioned during several COVID-19-related client briefings, courts will now have to wade into murky waters and provide clarity on how newly enacted or amended local, state and federal leave laws such as the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) operate, especially where statutory and regulatory guidance has not always been clear. Courts will also need to provide direction on how well-settled legal schemes, such as disability and contract law, apply in the face of a pandemic.
Of particular concern for employers right now are trends in wage and hour class actions suits, which can pose significant risk of crippling wage penalties and plaintiffs’ attorney fees, as well as leave discrimination and whistleblower retaliation claims. These kinds of claims could draw sympathy from jurors and sink a business. Here are a few of examples of employment cases recently filed across the country, and trust us, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Continue Reading COVID-19 Litigation: The Next Wave