Legal Battles in the time of COVID-19

A new frontier of companies protecting their staff vs legal battles in the time of Covid-19:

Litigation around Covid-19 continues. Workers claim sickness due to employer negligence, with the debate on whether a business is protected against legal action. By May 2020, The Washington Post published that nearly 800 lawsuits had been filed by prisons, claiming sickness and wrongful death. Healthcare facilities and every facet of the hospitality and tourism industry followed. By September of 2020, “…more than 5,000 lawsuits…had been filed across the US…experts say we may be at the start of a ‘tidal wave’ of litigation… according to a story published by ABC Television. The Wall Street Journal responded that “…rarely … is a business found liable for employee death tied to a workplace…” due to a high legal bar for finding fault while limiting employee compensation to medical bills only.

Businesses must answer hard questions to specific challenges. Class action suits seek restitution, push back, price gouging, lack of payout, human rights violations, insurance interruptions to name a few. 

On the positive side, the outcome of the Pandemic will influence and support a change in work culture.

True leaders step up as they exhibit new levels of empathy through heartfelt communication to their staff.  But supportive action also requires strategic planning as “…how a company responds… will define the brand for decades…how you treat employees today…impacts your brand in future years…” states Mark Cuban. 

An organization’s consumer brand and employer brand are being re-evaluated more than ever, especially those organizations who chose the route of economy first employee second mentality. 

The Pandemic increased our level of empathy and understanding as we saw into the lives of our co-workers. Even more changes are on the horizon while we remain resilient. Leverage crisis to effect positive change will undoubtedly set up their organization’s culture and brand to succeed. 

Covid-19 changed the business landscape for management to better care for staff. Some are doing more to prioritize health and safety, using innovative technology that both facilitate distancing and support mental health. Employees want their bosses to have their backs. Technology demonstrates innovation, creating a real impact on staff well-being.

Create roadmaps for new patterns of work as teams will likely remain a hybrid of in office and work from anywhere by implementing positive roadmaps and productive interactions that aid ongoing transition to new patterns of work. 

The silver lining? Companies are stepping up, expanding mental health benefits for their employees.     

Salesforce: offers Thriving Mind app for health articles and webinars; access to Plum Village Zen Meditation app.                          

Power Home Remodeling: access to mental health coaching app Sanvello and virtual therapy app Talkspace.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

TransferWise Technology: offers discounts on well-being services like Headspace app for mindfulness and wellness.

Merit Digital Credentials: wellness coaching and texting with professionals through the Sibly app.                          

Benecard Prescription benefits is partnering with the Free Form Minds app and website.                                                            

Amazon: audits to gauge effectiveness of health and safety measures and contactlesssign in/ sign out/breaks.          

Coca-Cola:  launched Life at Coke app for access to support groups, webinars, fitness sessions, development programs. 

Ally Financial: access to free mental health modules; virtual doctors and online health care services.                                   

Lowes: created an app to monitor traffic, enforce distancing to track flow of customers and limit entry inside.      

Starbucks: part time employees get 20 sessions a year through the Lyra Health app.                                                     

Target: health resources with Daylight app; Sleepio app to improve sleep; virtual fitness classes with Wellbeats app. 

SoFi Loans: access to a mental health app Modern Health for in-person or video therapy.

Lawsuits will continue. In August 2020, The Hill published that “…navigating workers comp and damage claims…during the pandemic has resulted in litigation around public health, health care, education, criminal justice, commerce…employment cases allege…wrongful discharge, disability discrimination, unhealthful working conditions…legal actions…are increasing…and the source of contention and legislation TBD…”

Employers remain compliant with changing standards and recommendations: should another resurgence occur, is it wholly on the employer to monitor, react and respond? Listed below are a few big cases still pending in the courts.

Zuniga vs Safeway/Albertsons filed July 2020 by wife of deceased filed six claims against defendant in Federal Courts; as of January 2021, this case has been remanded back to the State Courts for further litigation over a worker passing from Covid-19, allegedly getting sick on the job. 

Evans vs Walmart filed April 2020 by family of deceased continues, litigating over the death of an employee who passed days after experiencing symptoms: as of February 2021, the wrongful death suit is still pending in Circuit Court, claiming willful, wanton misconduct and reckless disregard” for the health and safety

Barker vs Tysons filed May 2020 by wife of deceased, litigating wrongful death when management neglected to shut down in a timely fashion, ignoring advice of local health officials: filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, as of March 2021 this case remains unresolved according to a story published by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Legal Sea Foods vs Strathmore Insurance Company filed May 2020 lost their battle for insurance reimbursement after choosing to remain closed during early Covid-19; they had an ‘all risk’ policy, and not taking the initiative to remain profitable with take-out and delivery options did not entitle them to coverage of loss.

No-one knows what comes next as the rules keep changing. While some will be slow to recover, others will rebound. And as claims become trials, the Pandemic will have a profound impact on jury selection. 

Posted in Our Thoughts.

Sharon Miller-Trackman

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