DOL Sues Over Firing for E-Mail Allegedly Sharing Coronavirus Concerns

Filed under: Communicable Diseases,Employment law,News |

​The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has filed suit against an Austin, Texas, car dealer for firing an employee who warned managers and other co-workers in an all-staff e-mail about potential coronavirus hazards in the workplace. We’ve gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other outlets.

Violation of OSH Act Claimed

In an Oct. 13 news release about the lawsuit, the DOL maintained that the car dealer violated the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act by retaliating against the worker in December 2020. After learning a co-worker had tested positive for the coronavirus, the employee asked management to notify colleagues immediately of their risk of exposure, according to the DOL. When management allegedly did not act, the employee sent an e-mail to all company employees about the potential hazards. Less than an hour later, he was fired. An attorney for the car dealer declined to comment on the case.


Employee’s E-Mail

“It has come to my attention that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19,” the worker said in his e-mail to staff. “I feel it is important to inform all employees of the current situation.” In firing him, the defendant claimed the whistleblower had identified the employee with COVID-19, which the DOL said he hadn’t done, and the defendant allegedly told him “his only job was to fix cars.”

“This employee acted out of real concern for their safety and that of their co-workers, and their actions are protected under federal law,” said John Rainwater, the DOL’s regional solicitor of labor in Dallas.

(Business Insider)

Compensatory and Punitive Damages Sought

In the DOL’s filing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, the department sought reinstatement for the worker, lost wages and benefits due to the firing, reimbursement for costs and expenses, compensatory damages and punitive damages.

(Insurance Journal)

COVID-19 Litigation Targets Health Care Industry

The health care industry is the hardest hit by COVID-19 employment litigation, according to Fisher Phillips’ COVID-19 Employment Litigation Tracker. As of the beginning of June, more than one in five of every pandemic-related lawsuits filed across the country had been filed against health care employers: 540 out of more than 2,400 cases. The total number of cases has since risen to 3,690. Of those claims, whistleblower retaliation lawsuits are the most common type brought against health care employers.

(Fisher Phillips)

OSHA Cited Employer for COVID-19 Safety Violations After Worker’s Death

A national auto insurance company is facing $23,406 in proposed penalties after investigators found that a Colorado branch ignored pandemic-related safety rules and “needlessly exposed” employees to co-workers with COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA initiated an investigation on April 21 after receiving a complaint about unsafe working conditions and an employee’s COVID-19-related death. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

(SHRM Online)

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