April brought a surge in wrongful termination employment lawsuits related to COVID-19. The lawsuits spanned the country and ranged from claims of retaliation for raising COVID-19 safety issues to termination during a mandated 14-day quarantine. However, central to almost every case is the obligation of an employee to follow government/local ordinances versus an employer’s right to terminate an employee.
What is Wrongful Termination?
Most employees are at-will. This means they have no employment contract and can be fired at any time for any lawful reason (or no reason at all). Generally, wrongful termination is the firing of an employee for an unlawful reason, such as discrimination or retaliation. In addition, employees with an employment contract, and even some at-will employees, may have an argument that a written or implied promise provided that an employer could only fire them for good cause. Finally, in some circumstances, the employer may be prevented from firing an employee without cause because it violates a well-established public policy.
COVID-19 Wrongful Termination Case Examples
A common thread through many of the recently filed lawsuits is public policy concerns. Here are a few examples of such lawsuits:
Reggio v. Tekin & Associates, LLC (Texas)
Employee sued for wrongful termination in violation of the public policy of the State of Texas. Plaintiff, who lives in Dallas County but works in Collin County, alleges she was terminated after she refused to violate a Dallas County shelter-in-place order. This order made it unlawful for her to travel to work in another county.
Michael Manwell v. Rochester Gear, Inc. (Michigan)
Employee sued for wrongful termination where he was allegedly sent home after demonstrating potential COVID-19 symptoms. Plaintiff alleges defendant (employer) violated the FMLA and public policy.
Chapman v. Alaris Health, LLC (New Jersey)
Employee, a nurses’ assistant, sued for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, and in violation of state whistleblower law. Plaintiff alleges that despite testing positive for COVID-19, defendant terminated her for not returning to work.
These examples are just a handful of several dozen similar cases filed between March and April. Moreover, many expect COVID-19 wrongful termination lawsuits to continue to increase in the coming months as employers and employees face confusion over re-opening guidelines, continuing state and local ordinances, and the various resulting economic challenges.
Questions About Wrongful Termination?
The employment lawyers at Rogge Dunn Group have experience and expertise in handling wrongful termination issues. Indeed, three of the Firm’s employment lawyers are Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. For more information, contact us here.