As of Wednesday, more than 8,000 COVID-19-related complaints have been filed across the United States, according to a national lawsuit tracker by international law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth. Although many of the complaints involve attacks on pandemic restrictions, thousands include workers’ compensation claims, and hundreds of individual lawsuits involve wrongful death, personal injury or workplace safety claims, mostly targeting cruise ships, meat-processing plants and other businesses, including nursing homes, the Alexandria, VA-based firm reported.
One of the most common types of COVID-19 employment-related lawsuits taking place right now is related to wrongful terminations, noted legal expert Gabrielle Wirth, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP. Wirth and other panelists from Dorsey shared advice for employers and businesses Thursday during a webinar on coronavirus liability concerns.
“We have seen a host of cases where the employee says, ‘I was terminated because I was complaining about the employer’s failure to give me proper personal protective equipment and failure to disclose that there was a workplace exposure to COVID,’ ” Wirth said. She advised employers that if they do need to terminate a worker’s employment, they should ensure that they have documentation to prove that the reason for the termination was completely distinct from any reported safety complaints or refusal to work because of a protective issue.
Most important, however, is that employers and businesses must evaluate their procedures; examine the various local, state and federal procedures that have come down; and get legal advice, said Doug Lang, Of Counsel at Dorsey.
“This is not a do-it-yourself situation,” Lang said. “Businesses need to ensure they have taken the appropriate steps to guard against infection.”
To help long-term care operators do this effectively, Lang and his colleagues suggest that providers:
- Be aware of potential liability, and do not take the potential claims for granted.
- Be prepared. Conduct an “audit” of possible sources of infection with the facility and identify reasonable precautions that must be taken to address those risks.
- Make employees and residents aware of any rules, requirements and precautions that have been implemented and that they are required to be followed by all.
- Implement the reasonable precautions, keep the precautions functioning properly, and keep orderly, written records.
- Determine whether business insurance coverage is in force and what must be done to give “notice” to the insurer if a claim is made.