Increase in COVID-19 Related Workplace Claims

According to data collected by a leading law firm[1], about half (43%) of the 283 COVID-19-related lawsuits filed to date in federal and state courts were filed in the month of June. This demonstrates a recent and rapid increase in the number of claims that involve disputes between workers and employers. Looking closer at the data reveals several key takeaways for employers, which include potential liability exposure that employers should proactively address before they turn into costly lawsuits.

Case Filings Are Increasing at An Alarming Rate

Since there is limitations in tracking such cases in every courthouse in the country, the information obtained should be considered a comprehensive, but not exhaustive, dataset. The data definitely reveals a trend and offers a view into the landscape faced by employers at the current time.

Of the 283 COVID-19 lawsuits tracked, 122 of them were filed in June, which represents 43% of all known lawsuits. This shows a 30% increase from the 94 cases filed in May, and a 103% increase from the 60 cases filed in April.

Class Actions Are Also Rising Steadily

While individual lawsuits filed by a single dissatisfied employee (or ex-employee) are not the only kinds of COVID-19-related claims filed across the country. There has also been a continuous increase in the number of class action lawsuits filed as well – a 65% increase in through May 2020.

Discrimination and Work-From-Home/Leave Claims

The most frequently types of COVID-19 claims filed are employment discrimination claims and work-from-home/leave claims. Of the 63 pandemic-related discrimination claims, most resemble the classic workplace disputes wrapped in a COVID-19 context. Some examples include a gender discrimination claim where a pregnant woman claims she was furloughed due to the pandemic however was replaced by a non-pregnant individual; a disability discrimination claim where an employee was forced to reveal a medical diagnosis to justify accommodation requests and was then terminated; a sexual harassment claim where the employee claims the employer used the pandemic to terminate her employment while the true reason was that she refused her boss’s sexual advances; and a worker who was sent home with flu-like symptoms but was still terminated after a negative COVID-19 test result.

Close behind are work-from-home/employee leave claims, with 62 such lawsuits on dockets across the country as of June 30th. The stories behind these lawsuits are consistent:  such as a worker claims to not receive requested time off from work despite a legitimate need for such leave.

The complete “top five” COVID-19-related claims are:

  • Employment Discrimination: 63
  • Work-From-Home/Employee Leave: 62
  • Retaliation: 41
  • Unsafe Working Conditions/Lack of PPE: 26
  • Wage and Hour: 20

Employers should train their managers so they understand their responsibilities and how employee rights might play out differently amid the current pandemic. Consistent treatment of workers and documentation remain critical.

California, Florida, And New York Are an Oasis For COVID-19 Claims

There should be no surprise that the states seeing the most claims when it comes to COVID-19-related workplace litigation are the same states that typically see the most employment-related lawsuits generally. California comes in first place in the number of overall lawsuits filed, as 47 have been filed there through June 30th. The remainder of the top five states include:

  • California: 47
  • Florida: 32
  • New Jersey: 31
  • New York: 21
  • Texas: 19

Class Actions Are Focused on Safety Concerns and Wages

Meanwhile, the two most common types of COVI-19-related class action claims filed against employers are claims of unsafe working conditions (eight), and wage and hour concerns (seven).

The safety-related class actions are usually based on an allegation that the employer failed to install safety protocols, policies, or other safeguards to prevent employees from contracting COVID-19 at work. While others allege the employer failed to offer necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), failed to train them on proper usage or reimburse them for their own purchases.

[1]  See the Fisher Phillips COVID-19 Employment Litigation Tracker.