Are you a small to medium-size business (SME) owner? Do you employ any number of staff to fulfill specific, crucial functions to keep your operations going and your business running? Has your company lately been negatively impacted by the mandatory government lockdowns that aim to contain the further spread of the coronavirus and end the epidemic? This last question is, of course, rhetorical, as a very limited amount of businesses have not been in any way affected by COVID-19 and the pandemic it caused.
As a way to reduce the negative impact of the COVID-19 virus on the residents of the United States and their businesses, the US government has already passed several stimulus bills in an effort to help the citizens cope with the changing times. Examples of these beneficial bills include the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, the Coronavirus Stimulus Bill, and the Families First Coronavirus Response (FFCR) Act. All three of these bills have allowed provisions for the continued payment of employees, paid leave for COVID-19 related circumstances, and tax relief for companies who have made a sacrifice and decided to keep their employees on their payrolls during the lockdown.
However, as the natlawreview.com website notes, “companies face challenges to comply with the myriad of constantly evolving executive orders as well as guidance documents issued by the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) to resume work and to minimize risks.”
Because of this, it stands to reason that there will be an increase in the number of litigation efforts by employees because they believe their civil rights have been violated. Following are three things to keep in mind in the following months when it comes to employees and their rights during the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Navigating an increase in employment litigation lawsuits
Before we consider the ways in which we can deal with a potential increase in employee claims, we have to first take a look at a brief definition of the Employment litigation section as described in the United States constitution. Succinctly stated, this part of the US constitution enforces the Civil Rights Act. Accordingly, “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment practices that discriminate because of race, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy) and religion.”
In the contemporary world where political correctness and equality are of the utmost importance, businesses and employers have to make sure that the workplace is equally welcoming and accessible to all people, no matter of their beliefs, ethnic, cultural, or racial background, or sexual orientation.
2. Hire a specialist employment attorney
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened the door to new employment litigation lawsuits which will not go away anytime soon. There are several reasons for this, some of the most notable ones including discrimination of staff by their employers, the violations of strict precaution measures integrated to increase the safety of everyone, and various negligence claims.
The unfortunate part of these accusations, which can both be real or perceived, is that the safety recommendations change almost weekly or even daily, based on what medical experts, scientists, and researchers learn about the behavior of the coronavirus and out overall knowledge on how best to protect ourselves. In other words, the more these specialists learn about the virus’s behavior from their extensive research, the greater the chance that health and safety recommendations will change. When they do, so must our perception of the situation and our compliance to follow the procedures.
A typical example is a requirement for every single employee to wear a mask and a pair of in the workplace. At first glance, it did not look as though wearing a nonmedical grade mask would make any difference in preventing the further spread of the virus. However, further research has indicated that in fact, the complete opposite is the actual truth. When the situation changed, there might have been an individual who was infected by the virus in the workplace before it became mandatory to wear a mask. Since they have suffered in the workplace and are now in quarantine, infected and away from their loved ones unable to work and provide, they may feel discriminated. To release their frustration and gain justice, they could be tempted to file a claim against their employer and seek some compensation.
3. Be prepared to negotiate
According to the Sattiraju Law Firm, employment litigation can be an extremely expensive ordeal for the whole business, one that could put the whole operation in danger. Therefore, it is essential to keep an open mind about such things, especially in uncertain times like these, and be prepared to negotiate with every single employee if they require you to. Be there for them and make yourself open and welcoming. This should especially be the case if the burden of proof indicates that a certain employee might have a valid claim that should not be easily overlooked and dismissed.
Pursuing any of these claims through the civil justice system and into the courts will cost the employer and the company a lot of money that no one should be made to spend in the era that waits for us beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Furthermore, it may last too long and cause other problems, take away the focus of the rest of the staff, and halt the operation, hurting the revenue and the overall atmosphere and trust among people.
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to instruct your attorneys to negotiate with the lawyers of your employees. As a collective, all members of the company need to be on the same page to help each other make it through. Companies that escape the crisis with mere scratches will be the ones that care about their staff’s needs and wishes, those that are ready to listen to the problems and look for the right solutions.
In summation, to survive the COVID-19 crisis as a company and come out if unscathed, be open for negotiation, hire a specialist employment attorney, and do everything in your power to limit the number of employee litigations in the company. By doing it this, the company will prove that it cares about the wellbeing of the staff and wants them to be as safe and protected as possible.