Attorney discusses workplace lawsuits

Local News

(WEHT)- Since the coronavirus pandemic begin businesses have had to make decisions on whether to allow employees to work from home. But some still had to go to their workplace with concerns about the conditions. This has led to several lawsuits between employees and their bosses. Earlier this week Eyewitness News spoke with attorney Rob Crain out of Dallas about these legal battles.

Brandon Bartlett: Rob, thanks for joining us tonight the COVID-19 pandemic is creating some tension between workers and their bosses and some are now suing let’s talk about those lawsuits from what you’re hearing. Why are those workers suing and do their lawsuits have any merit?

Rob Crain: Well, each case is an individual basis and it’s all facts specific. Those employees who were in workplaces where there was known to be Corona cases, who asked for PPE and were denied PPE, you know, obviously, those employees on that side of the spectrum have got, you know, a stronger set of facts. And they’re also going to have to deal with whether or not there was any other exposure those employees may have had outside of the workplace. And then on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got folks, you know, who are working for good employers who have taken reasonable precautions who have given up masks and required safety shields and proper distancing. And in those cases, the workers are going to have a more difficult time if they are even able to get past really first base. So each case is fact-specific. And it really depends on you know, how responsible and reasonable the employers are being, and what other exposures that were to employees who may be contracting Corona.

Brandon Bartlett: Absolutely. And there are some new rules that went into place April 1, requiring some businesses to pay their employees a certain amount for a certain period of time away from work are some arguing that that’s not enough?

Rob Crain: You know, we’re in a very unique time in our nation’s history and the new pay provisions that are going in there, they are being accompanied with policies that are just now being interpreted whether or not we’re going to have sufficient funds for our workers who, you know, incomes are not coming in at the moment. You know, that’s a bigger question for our economy as well. But as far as legalities and so forth, go, we’re really in unchartered waters. And this is a time where our employers and employees really need to find some common ground and it’s a stressful time and it’s a difficult time for that. So to answer your question, I don’t know if it’ll be enough as to whether or not we’re going to work it out. Policy-wise, we’re working it out as we go right now more than anything else.

Brandon Bartlett: Yeah. Well, many lawsuits that we have seen are about taking time off from work. But what about when it comes to going back to work? Are you seeing some lawsuits being filed because some at-risk workers think it’s just too early to go back?

Rob Crain: Well, we’ve had several instances where employers were adamant that their employees not wear face masks, for instance, in restaurants. A restaurant owner did not want that atmosphere, customers and servers staff wearing masks, and they made it clear on their website, if that’s a problem for you, as a customer don’t come in, come see us later. And they told their workers don’t come in don’t come to work if you’re going to wear a mask, and that went to court and the courts have generally and again, it’s a jurisdiction by jurisdiction, have sided with the worker saying no, you’ve got to make some reasonable efforts here to protect workers from these incidences. So we’re having that initial battle to start with on whether, you know, what is the shape of our current workplace, and then the lawsuits that are following as far as you know, what is being provided for these workers again, those are going to be very fact-specific and difficult to judge to start with.

Brandon Bartlett: Typically, what are workers hoping to get out of their lawsuits? Are they typically looking for compensation?

Rob Crain: You know, again, right now, we’re really seeing the parameters of our new workplace, the new environment that we’re going to be working in, whether we’re in restaurants, whether it’s in factories with folks working side by side, what folks are asking for and where relief is being given more immediately is in workplace conditions and trying to establish a safe place so that folks don’t contract Corona. Now, for those instances where, you know, we have a case, we have the first case filed in the state of Texas, of a worker who contracted Coronavirus at work and passed, you know, those workers or their families in this instance will be seeking with their typical damages under any tort system for wrongful death damages and that sort of thing. So, you know, you got a broad spectrum of what’s happening right now and our courts are looking at a lot of issues.

Brandon Bartlett: Interesting, in your opinion, is this just the beginning? Do you anticipate a wave of lawsuits as more businesses start to reopen and try to get back to normal?

Rob Crain: My brain tells me yes, we will see more lawsuits. My heart tells me, I hope that we take this opportunity to recognize that we are in a difficult time that has tension, and not just emotional tension, but also financial tension. You know, a lot of our businesses have been closed, they’re trying to make enough money to pay the back bills to pay the bills going forward. And they’re going to have added costs with additional protections, and they’ve got to balance out what they’re doing as far as additional costs. And you know, what I’m hopeful is that we recognize in our country we’ve got a freedom to wear masks, we got a freedom not to wear a mask, but right now at the time is is is to exercise our responsibility to one another and to be as safe as we can. And I’m hopeful that employers will take reasonable steps and that the employees will follow those guidelines so that we don’t see as many lawsuits or what typically happens after, you know, a tragedy like this.”

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(This story was originally published on May 20, 2020)

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