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Coronavirus was the microscopic “germ” that caused a spike in class action lawsuits relating to many workplace issues.

With a record number of 1,548 rulings in 2020, according to the national law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP, COVID-19 has been a gigantic headache for employers.

The rise in cases isn’t surprising. Whenever there is an economic disruption resulting in significant job losses, increased litigation tends to follow.

Termination, the top issue according to the report, was cited in 690 cases. Wage and hour lawsuits accounted for 113 cases.

Lawsuits have also been filed against businesses alleging that, through their negligence, they contributed to the spread of the virus to workers or customers.

These claims have continued into 2021, since employees don’t necessarily file litigation the day they’re laid off.

What’s an employer to do?

To reduce your risk of a lawsuit, there are steps you can take:

  • Make sure your supervisors understand what constitutes discrimination/wrongful termination and how to document performance issues appropriately.
  • Avoid wage and hour issues by accurately tracking the number of hours worked by nonexempt employees.
  • Do an analysis of whether your employees are classified correctly as exempt or nonexempt. The pandemic has, in some cases, changed job duties and that may require reclassification of certain employees.
  • Be sure to keep on top of new laws that may affect employees in your state. New York, for example, now has paid sick leave, which must be taken into consideration by employers in the Empire State.

Employers should also be mindful of claims that could arise from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. This newsletter covered that topic here if you need a refresher.

We’re here to help

Your subscription to this newsletter includes access to Expert Help, which puts the knowledge and expertise of our team of HR experts at your fingertips. Got questions about classifying employees? Wondering how to protect your company through discipline or termination? Want to know if you can mandate the vaccine? We’re here to help, whether your question feels microscopic or gigantic.