While the evolving set of state and federal worker safety guidelines and recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic are not legally enforceable, the consequences of not following them in some cases are likely to be settled in court.
At least six workers in a Long Island, New York, warehouse have died following warnings against calling in sick and the delayed provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the warehouse, an investigation by The Intercept and Type Investigations found.
Like many essential workers, when employees at the warehouse heard rumors that COVID-19 was spreading among staff, some were torn between protecting their health and keeping their jobs.
“We were scared — that’s all we talked about,” Ana Menjivar told The Intercept. “At the same time, we didn’t want to lose work.”
Around the same time, Menjivar said she found a flyer on the warehouse floor that warned, “If you don’t show up for work you will not be paid and after two days you will be considered to have abandoned your job.” The flyer also reportedly discouraged employees from wearing PPE unless they were sick or had compromised immune systems.
Menjivar and her husband, Flores, who also worked at the warehouse, soon tested positive for the disease. After a weeks-long struggle, she recovered, but he suddenly died.
Menjivar claims that neither she nor her husband were provided PPE to wear on the job and that at one point she witnessed a supervisor telling another employee to remove a mask brought from home unless they had a doctor’s note.
“The only thing that the companies care about is production,” she told The Intercept over the phone between sobs. “They didn’t start giving people masks until he was already sick.”
The situation is exacerbated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s failure to take action, according to former OSHA chief David Michaels.
“Some employers are only now providing the proper PPE to Covid-exposed workers, and far too many still provide no PPE or even adequate social distancing,” he said. “They can get away with it because OSHA refuses to issue an emergency standard requiring employers to protect their employees from this deadly virus.”
Emery Reddy is committed to guiding our clients through this crisis. Call us if you’ve been exposed to the virus at work, have complications following exposure, have been terminated illegally or have any other coronavirus-related employment questions. You won’t get better advice.