Claims for Wrongful Termination During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Claims for Wrongful Termination During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination has become an extraordinarily complex matter during the COVID-19 outbreak. Employers are struggling to keep up with the massive changes in the legal landscape. With employees focused on remaining employed and feeding their families, it is just as unlikely that they are aware of the legal issues surrounding the pandemic. It is overwhelming, but there are answers.

Workplace Health and Safety

Grocery store cashiers, food delivery drivers and caregivers are forced to risk their lives and report to their place of work. Proper precautions in place for the protection of their health and safety, however, are not being followed. Some employers have failed to provide protective personal equipment, such as gloves and face masks. Request to take time off are being denied without any justification. Can they fire someone for raising safety concerns?

Americans fear for their health and the health of their loved ones. Thankfully, there are laws in place that regulate workplace health and safety. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), otherwise known as the OSHA Act, protects workers from hazards according to strict safety guidelines. It has never been more essential. Its recommendations include social distancing, disinfecting the workplace and having employees stay at home.  

Workers fear that they will be fired for bringing up coronavirus-related safety concerns. If they do not get fired, they are still concerned that staying home will put their jobs at risk. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects them from this sort of retaliation. An attorney can help to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Taking Time Off

Employers still cannot terminate workers who are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per 12-month period if they suffer from a serious health condition or must care for a loved one.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) is one of the many new laws created in response to COVID-19. It requires private employers with less than 500 employees to provide temporary paid leave to workers who are experiencing symptoms, being quarantined, caring for someone in quarantine, or caring for children at home due to school closure.


The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits private employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against workers with a recognized disability, which is defined as any condition that limits a major life activity, such as breathing. Now, the question is being raised as to whether COVID-19 can be considered a disability. If so, an employer must provide reasonable accommodation, unless it causes undue hardship.

The answer to the question depends on the severity of symptoms and how long they last. In the event of a serious case, the answer would be yes, unless the employee is considered a  "direct threat" to the health and safety of co-workers.

Other Legal Matters

Other legal matters are relevant in the coronavirus era. For example, there have been cases of discrimination against people of Asian descent, which is still covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Cases of age discrimination have also emerged due to evidence that older people are at greater risk. Anyone 40 years of age or older is protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Finally, shelter-in-place orders are now the law in New Jersey, with some exceptions. If this is the reason for not reporting to work, you cannot be fired, as it would be committing an illegal act. An exception is made for employees deemed “essential”.

If you have been fired during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to understand your legal rights. While most employment is "at-will," meaning you can be fired at any time and for just about any reason, some layoffs are against the law. If you have been fired illegally, you can sue for damages, and, in some cases, even get your job back.

The Law Office of H. Benjamin Sharlin LLC

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