Can I Sue My Employer for Not Providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?
The COVID-19 pandemic has put millions of workers at risk of contracting this serious and potentially deadly disease while performing tasks and duties related to their jobs. However, employers have a legal responsibility to keep workers reasonably safe from COVID-19 on the job. This responsibility requires efforts such as providing adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE. If your employer failed to provide masks, gloves or other PPE and you contracted COVID-19 at work because of it, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit for unreasonably hazardous work conditions.
What Are Your Employer’s Responsibilities With COVID-19?
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, employers in the U.S. had a legal responsibility to keep workplaces reasonably safe and free from hazards. All employers and businesses are obligated to take certain steps to minimize the risk of employee injuries and illnesses on the job. With the COVID-19 pandemic, employer responsibilities expanded to include actions that would protect employees from exposure to the virus. These responsibilities include:
- Properly sanitizing the workplace and providing sanitation stations
- Rearranging workplaces and schedules to promote social distancing from customers and other workers
- Providing masks and other personal protective equipment to employees
- Requiring masks be worn by all customers
- Adhering to public health recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health organizations
- Screening for symptoms and having a control plan in place
In essence, all employers have a legal responsibility to reduce or eliminate COVID-19 exposures through reasonable control and safety measures. Employers must analyze the risk of COVID-19 exposure and determine how best to decrease its transmission among employees and maintain healthy business operations. The failure to take reasonable safety measures, either carelessly or knowingly, can make the employer legally and financially responsible (liable) for a worker’s losses and expenses related to COVID-19.
What Are Your Rights as a Worker?
As a worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, you have certain legal rights whether you work in a high-risk industry or not. This includes the right to a reasonably safe work environment. It is your employer’s responsibility to respect and protect your rights as a worker. The failure to do so, resulting in an illness such as the coronavirus, could make the employer liable for related expenses. Your rights as a worker in California include the right to:
- Be provided with necessary PPE, such as gloves and masks, to reduce exposure to COVID-19
- Refuse to work in hazardous conditions
- Be free from retaliation or discipline for refusing to work or reporting COVID-19 risks to government authorities
- File for financial compensation for contracting COVID-19 on the job, or for the death of a loved one from COVID-19
If your employer infringed upon your rights, such as not providing personal protective equipment, discuss your legal options with an Encino workers’ compensation lawyer. You may have grounds to file a workers’ compensation claim or a personal injury lawsuit in pursuit of financial compensation, depending on the circumstances.
Can You Sue Your Employer for COVID-19?
If you contracted COVID-19 on the job and believe it is because your employer negligently failed to provide you with PPE or to otherwise minimize your risk of COVID-19 exposure, you may have grounds to bring a lawsuit against the employer. Note, however, that you cannot accept a workers’ compensation settlement and sue your employer. You must choose one legal remedy or the other. This is why it is important to discuss your case with an attorney before saying yes to an insurance settlement.
The most common legal remedy for contracting COVID-19 on the job in California is a workers’ compensation claim. State law allows certain employees to file for workers’ comp for COVID-19, including those who work in high-risk industries and contracted the disease during an outbreak at work. There are limited circumstances, however, where we may be able to file a liability lawsuit directly against your employer for COVID-19. Discuss your case with an attorney for more information about your legal rights.