Wrongful Death Lawsuit Related to Coronavirus Plagues Safeway

wrongful death lawsuitWrongful death lawsuit filed against Safeway. Pedro Zuniga was one of 51 employees who contracted COVID-19 while working in a Tracy, California Safeway warehouse in April 2020. After over two decades of employment there, he succumbed to complications of the disease on April 13. He was just 52 years old. His widow has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Safeway, alleging that her husband would not have died had the company adhered to federal and state safety guidelines and enacted common-sense policies. Instead, the suit claims, Safeway focused on company profits at the expense of employee safety and health. 

Precarious Conditions Alleged 

According to the wrongful death lawsuit, warehouse employees were beginning to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. Nonetheless, the company did nothing to address the situation: 

  • No personal protective equipment was issued to employees;
  • Signage in the warehouse actually discouraged the wearing of PPE in March;
  • Social distancing was never attempted and workers were obligated to work in close contact with one another;
  • Employees were “deterred” by managers from calling in sick;
  • Workers who experienced symptoms and expressed concerns about working were threatened with the loss of “points,” which could ultimately result in termination.

In fact, the company made efforts to conceal the warehouse outbreak, which affected at least 3% of the 1,700 employees.   

Zuniga’s Situation 

Mr. Zuniga tested positive for coronavirus on April 1, and was hospitalized shortly thereafter with pneumonia, a serious cough, fever, and trembling. In a matter of hours, he was put into an induced coma in the ICU, only to die days later of cardiopulmonary arrest and respiratory failure. 

Safeway Wakes Up 

After Zuniga perished, Safeway apparently woke up to the seriousness of the situation and began to enact appropriate protective measures at the warehouse. Employees began to have their temperatures checked prior to entering the warehouse in Tracy in an attempt to prevent symptomatic employees from spreading the disease. While it is a step in the right direction for current employees, the change in approach does nothing for Zuniga and his widow, children, and grandchildren.   

CDC Guidelines 

The Centers for Disease Control have a number of guidelines for the workplace, including making workplace hazard assessments, conducting health evaluations on a daily basis, encouraging mask wearing, improving ventilation systems, and implementing social distancing protocols.  Furthermore, disinfection strategies should be employed in common areas, and employees should be reminded of appropriate hygiene practices.  Essentially, workers who feel ill should stay home.  [Read more…]

Sex Discrimination on the Job

sex discriminationSex discrimination is a pervasive problem in America. Over 40% of female workers indicate that they have experienced on-the-job discrimination due to their gender. This discrimination occurs regardless of experience, education, or age. Bias and discrimination in the workplace occur in a number of ways, and include a range of unacceptable behaviors, such as: 

  • Lesser earnings than male counterparts for essentially the same work;
  • Being treated as incompetent;
  • Being subjected to seemingly insignificant slights on a regular basis;
  • Getting less support from superiors;
  • Being overlooked when it came to promotions or projects;
  • Being denied job positions all together.

Consider the case of a California woman who attempted to make telecommuting  work, only to experience sex discrimination from her employer: 

When Drisana Wallace was let go from her position as an account executive at the insurance firm HUB due to a reduction in staff, she suspected the company was playing fast and fancy with the facts. She quickly filed a lawsuit against the company detailing her experience and claiming bias and sex discrimination were the real reasons behind her termination. 

Pandemic Accommodations 

Due to the pandemic, Wallace was allowed to perform duties from her home in San Diego.  According to her claim, her supervisor, Daniel Kabban, had a number of complaints about her job performance. In particular, Kabban did not appreciate the fact that Wallace was caring for two young children at home while working, one of whom was still nursing. Despite her best efforts to manage all of the demands of her busy schedule, including working at night when the children were asleep, Wallace fielded complaints from her employer that sometimes her children could be heard in the background on phone calls. Wallace contacted human resources in an attempt to get direction on how to deal with the situation, and was advised that the company anticipated that their managers would deal with situations with more flexibility. She felt better, but not for long.

According to Wallace, Kabban continued to schedule calls for her during times when her children were active, making it impossible to keep them from being heard. Sometimes he assigned her tasks that were on an expedited turnaround schedule, and he was displeased when she was unavailable to accept them. Wallace accuses Kabban of repeated sexist comments, and asserts that fathers who worked from home were not held to the same standard that she was.

When she contacted HR again, she was laid off. She believes the company is hiding behind the pandemic to justify getting rid of an employee who required some basic scheduling accommodations that any man would have been granted without a second thought.  [Read more…]

California Walmart Employees Awarded $6 Million

california walmartWhen the company did not properly address employee concerns in a California Walmart, workers took matters to the courts for a resolution. It turns out to have been an excellent strategy, with California courts once again maintaining the rights and dignity of the state’s workforce.  If you find yourself working for an unscrupulous employer who fails to provide proper compensation, a local labor and employment attorney may be able to help. 

Walmart’s Violations

In a class action suit filed on behalf of about 5,000 workers in a Chino, California Walmart, employees received a big win when the court found the company had, indeed, violated the Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and/or California’s Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) in several ways.  Walmart was found to have neglected to compensate employees fairly:

  • Meal and rest periods were not provided;
  • Employees were not compensated for all hours worked;
  • Overtime pay was denied to employees;
  • Final paychecks were not forthcoming;
  • Wage pay stubs did not contain complete and correct itemization.

Legal Expectations

California’s Unfair Competition Law is designed to provide relief for unfair business practices. This may relate to practices that are fraudulent, that violate statutes, or that otherwise are unfair to employees.  Under the UCL, plaintiffs may be reimbursed monies owed and businesses may be forced to change their practices.    

The Private Attorneys General Act gives employees the power to sue for civil damages related to employer violations of the labor code. 

The law is clear regarding meal breaks for employees who work five hours or more:  

  • Employers are required to provide a 30-minute break that is unencumbered by workplace duties;
  • The meal break must be uninterrupted time over which the employer has no control;
  • Employees may not be impeded or discouraged from taking these breaks.

For employees who work over 10 hours in a single shift, a second break must be provided, as well.

Details of the California Walmart Case

In the California Walmart scenario, the court found that employees were discouraged from taking their guaranteed breaks by an onerous security check they were required to undergo when leaving the building. Now, while it is not incumbent upon an employer to ensure that employees perform work during their breaks, when a lengthy security check significantly diminishes the amount of time allowed for a break, the company can be found in violation of the law. In the case of Walmart, that is precisely what occurred, and a jury believed employees who claimed it was an impediment to taking lunch breaks. [Read more…]

Can Protesting Affect Your Job?

protestingThese are highly political times we are living in, with the sudden advent of mass protests across the nation in support of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. What does protesting have to do with your job?  A local labor and employment attorney can answer this, and other questions you may have. 

Laws to Consider 

While clearly the First Amendment is a central issue relating to any protest, employees and employers alike should be aware that other laws may apply to actions, as well.  It is important to be aware of California’s Government Code 3203, which bars an employer from participation or involvement in political activities.  An employee may demonstrate or express political views without reprisal, as long as it does not occur on company time or using company technology or materials.  It is also important that employees cannot be wearing their workplace uniforms while involved in political actions (Government Code 3206). 

Employer Involvement in Political Action 

In some cases, employers may want employees to participate in political action.  While it is lawful for them to broach current issues and talking points with employees, they may not incite employees to participate in political action, or pressure them into taking a certain stance on a particular issue. 

Can You Legally Criticize Your Employer Publicly? 

The First Amendment—freedom of speech—is a constitutional right.  Nonetheless, if your public comments can be linked to workplace disruptions in operations, it could get an employee into trouble if the employee either: 

  • Shared company secrets, or;
  • Misrepresented their views as those of the company’s, or;
  • The employer’s interests are seen to outweigh your right of privacy in your personal life.

More specifically, if your employer can prove that your actions caused significant harm to the company’s reputation, or that those activities limited your ability to do your job effectively, including preventing you from being able to work with colleagues, then employer can take action against you. 

What if You are Arrested During a Protest? 

Unless you are a law enforcement officer, your boss cannot fire or otherwise reprimand you for being arrested. On the other hand, if you do not show up for work as scheduled because you are behind bars, and you do not have personal days to use for un-prescribed purposes you may have a problem.  It only becomes an employer issue if various employees are treated differently based on their views, race, ethnicity, or other protected area.  [Read more…]

Big Win for LGBTQ Workers

lgbtq workersLGBT workers win big just days since the Trump administration put forth regulations denying health care benefits for Transgender Americans, literally denying the civil rights for patients who seek medical services. In a major contrast to the Administration’s view, however, the Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ workers should be afforded the same protections as every other American. 

Discrimination on the Basis of “Sex” 

At issue is the meaning of the word “sex” in discussions of discrimination. Under the Obama administration, provisions related to sex discrimination included issues related to gender identification. The current administration however, believed that the legal reality separated transgender people from others in terms of discrimination rules. That gave doctors the right to refuse to treat transgender people if they choose. 

The LGBTQ Workers Supreme Court Ruling 

It appears that the Trump Administration came into direct conflict with a Supreme Court ruling that affirmed federal laws stating that government must fully protect transgender individuals from discrimination. In a 6-3 vote, the court stated that employers cannot fire workers simply because they are homosexual or transgender. The ruling was embedded in the 1964 statute—Title VII of the Civil Rights Act–barring discrimination on the basis of several factors, one of which is sex.  Conservative voices have contended that the law was written without  transgender people in mind decades ago.  However, as Justice Gorsuch wrote in the majority decision, “It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discrimination based on sex.”  The landmark decision will provide a safety net for LGBTQ workers and individuals across the country, especially since only about half of states have protections for these individuals on the books. Notably, President Trump agreed to bend to the new ruling, stating that the court is very powerful, and the findings must be adhered to. 

California Law 

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) has protected the rights of Californian LGBTQ workers from employer discrimination for years. Gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual individuals may not be discriminated against when it comes to job applications and interviews, hiring, compensation, promotions, firing, working conditions, and opportunities in the workplace. In the event discrimination does occur, courts may rule that companies may be on the hook to address a number of issues, including: 

  • Past and future earnings;
  • Attorney’s fees;
  • Emotional distress;
  • Punitive damages;
  • Changes in company policies;
  • Training to address discrimination issues.

[Read more…]

Sex Bias in Employee Performance Evaluations?

sex biasThe sex bias referred to in this article may actually surprise you. Sometimes it is difficult to know precisely what is expected in the workplace. You would think that performance evaluations are generally a good indicator of just how well you are performing.  Unless they are not. 

The Sex Bias Study

Researchers studied supervisor responses to essays written by an unknown author. They then were asked to judge the writing on several criteria, with essays appearing to