As the country begins to take steps to reopen businesses while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many employees will have concerns about what going back to work means for their health and safety. Is my employer doing enough to keep me safe? What should I do if I think my working conditions are unsafe? What if I am fired for complaining?
In New Jersey, a former employee of the drug manufacturer Hovione has filed a lawsuit that may help answer some of these questions. The employee—a mechanical technician who worked overnight shifts at the company’s drug manufacturing facility in East Windsor—claims that the company did not implement social distancing rules or provide personal protective equipment to keep employees safe. No changes were made even after he complained. When the employee shared information with his co-workers about safety measures that other companies were taking, he was fired. He is now suing the company for wrongful termination.
Essential workers and employees of companies that will soon be reopening may be protected under the law if they complain about unsafe working conditions or share information with their co-workers about their concerns. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified workplace safety standards that employers should maintain during the COVID-19 crisis. Covered workers who face retaliation after raising safety concerns may also be covered by OSHA’s whistleblower provisions.
In addition, complaints about COVID-19 safety issues may be protected under the National Labor Relations Act if your employer fires or punishes you because you took action to organize your co-workers to address health and safety concerns at your workplace. If you are fired or punished for raising a complaint about the safety of your working conditions, you may also be protected by state laws like the Conscientious Employee Protection Act in New Jersey or the whistleblower provisions of the New York Labor Law.
If you are concerned about your working conditions, are considering complaining to your employer, or have been fired after making a complaint, you should talk with a labor and employment attorney. The attorneys at Pechman Law Group PLLC are available to answer your questions. Call us at 212-583-9500 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your rights.