A Rise in COVID-19 Retaliation Claims: What You Need to Know

As more and more employees become vaccinated, some employers have considered relaxing or lifting their own COVID-19 safety measures. However, this consideration, along with others, has led to an uptick in whistleblower and retaliation claims from employees concerned about health and safety in the workplace.

To put this into perspective, as of April 18, 2021, employees have filed over 14,000 COVID-19 complaints with the Federal Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA). Employees have also filed over 50,000 COVID-19 complaints with the state-operated OSHA agencies.

In addition to OSHA protections, most states have a wrongful termination statute or recognize the common law, which generally provides that an employee may bring a suit against an employer for wrongful termination if the employee was discharged in retaliation for refusing to commit an act or omission that would violate public policy.

With an influx of retaliation claims related to health and safety, employers should review and enforce their anti-retaliation policies and procedures. Also, employers can further mitigate their risks by the following:

  • Require all workers—even vaccinated workers—to continue to follow protective measures, such as wearing a face covering and practicing social distancing, until OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer further guidance.
  • Properly document employees’ health and safety complaints.
  • Advise supervisors and managers that they may not discipline or punish an employee for raising a health or safety concern, especially COVID-19.
  • Consider providing training to supervisors and managers, so they are aware of the company’s anti-retaliation policies and procedures.

For more information regarding best anti-retaliation practices, please contact Employers Council.