We all anticipate a spate of lawsuits to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. We have seen unfair workplace practices already bringing suits, and we’ve seen unsafe conditions lawsuits, but what about lawsuits relating to employer-provided safety equipment?
In what must be one of the strangest cases, a group of McDonald’s workers from Oakland, CA are suing their employer for failing to provide adequate face coverings. In the lawsuit, four workers are suing a single franchise of the global chain, alleging that they were made to report to work after they began to show symptoms of the coronavirus infection.
They claim they were given coffee filters and doggie diapers as face coverings instead of functional masks. Claiming this was a failure on the part of the management to create a safe work environment, the workers also claim that the company failed to halt the spread of the virus.
The plaintiffs say that they fear they infected others, with one noting that her ten-month-old infant was infected, and another noted that she was forced to vacate her family home and began paying rent on an apartment in an attempt to protect her family.
At the heart of it all, though, are those doggie diapers and coffee filters.
As an attorney for the plaintiffs explained, the inadequate coverings were “provided as a stopgap but were completely inadequate, and it’s somewhat offensive that the company wouldn’t provide adequate masks…Eventually they were given masks meant for one-time use, but they were told to use them day after day after day.”
Symptomatic workers were told they could pull their masks down if they found breathing too difficult. This, they argued, meant she likely infected others.
To date, 25 cases of coronavirus have been traced to the restaurant, and 11 workers tested positive for the virus. Workers say that they were intensely pressured to report for their shifts even if ill.
The owner and manager of the franchise said that these allegations are entirely false and that more than 3,000 masks and 500 sets of gloves for the 375 employees were purchased and made available.
McDonald’s is known for micromanaging franchises, and this leads many to wonder if the food giant is going to be pulled into the lawsuit, as well. They have issued a blanket statement about the matter, explaining that the company had “worked tirelessly since March to enhance nearly 50 processes in our restaurants to make crew and customer safety and well-being our highest priorities.”
And yet, in that same statement, they don’t say that all employees are guaranteed protection, noting that those “sick are asked to stay home,” which is not what the plaintiffs in the California lawsuit claim.
McDonald’s has more than 2,000 independent franchisees and over 800k in managers and restaurant crews. They say they are focused on keeping them “in safe environments to serve healthcare workers, first responders and communities during this pandemic,” and that the corporation has “provided an unprecedented level of short term financial support to franchisees so they can focus on making every effort to maintain a safe environment.”
Whether or not the franchisee involved in the California lawsuit did get financial support, and whether or not those thousands of masks and gloves were ordered has yet to be revealed.
Experts have not yet determined just what materials are the very best for food workers to use as face coverings, but never have they said that a coffee filter or a doggie diaper is a good idea. If this lawsuit makes it into the courtroom, it should be very interesting to hear the logic behind that approach to health and safety and is sure to be among the more interesting and weird cases to come out of the COVID-19 crisis.