It is a virtual certainty that lawsuits from employees will increase, and likely with emphasis on whistleblower and retaliation claims as states reopen and more employees return to work. Employers need to think ahead and be ready for this wave of litigation.
There are many reasons why the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to these claims. First, the world is dealing with a new and highly contagious virus and we are in uncharted waters. No one knows what measures must be taken to keep workers safe, or whether there will be other explosions of the virus in workplaces.
Second, the economy is bad and jobs are scarce. Employees who feel that they are at risk of termination or layoff will try to protect their jobs or shield themselves. Some will resort to whistleblowing about health and safety or other public policy issues, while others will might allege individual retaliation claims against their employer. Employers in highly regulated industries, like healthcare, energy, and consumer goods see whistleblowing complaints regularly, but as we move forward, these types of complaints will likely increase and extend beyond these industries.
And finally, the plaintiffs’ bar is hungry. Courts have been closed and cases stalled—they sense blood in the water and will strike.