Employment Law Attorneys
Podcast: Can You Sue Your Employer for Covid-19 Illness?

Podcast: Can You Sue Your Employer for Covid-19 Illness?

Can You Sue Your Employer for Covid-19 Illness?

In this episode of the Employee Survival Guide, Mark explores the issue: Can you sue your employer for Covid-19 illness? The discussion explores the Workers’ Compensation system in each state and other types of common law claims that may be asserted against employers.

The Employee Survival Guide is a podcast only for employees. We will share with you all the information your employer does not want you to know about and guide you through various important employment law issues. The goal of the Employee Survival Guide podcast is to provide you with critical insights about your employment and give you the confidence to protect your job and career, especially during difficult times.

YOUR HOST MARK CAREY

The Employee Survival Guide podcast is hosted by seasoned Employment Law Attorney Mark Carey, who has only practiced in the area of Employment Law for the past 25 years.  Mark has seen just about every type of employment dispute there is, including the man who lost his voice box and his career, and has filed several hundred lawsuits in state and federal courts around the country, including class action suits.  He has a no frills and blunt approach to employment issues faced by millions of workers nationwide. Mark endeavors to provide both sides to each and every issue discussed on the podcast so you can make an informed decision.

EMPLOYEE SURVIVAL GUIDE PODCAST IS LIKE NO OTHERS

The Employee Survival Guide podcast is just different than other lawyer podcasts! How?  Mark hates “lawyer speak” used by lawyers and just prefers to talk using normal everyday language understandable to everyone, not just a few.  This podcast is for employees only because no one has considered conveying employment information directly to employees, especially information their employers do not want them to know about.  Mark is not interested in the gross distortion and default systems propagated by all employers, but targets the employers intentions, including discriminatory animus, designed to make employees feel helpless and underrepresented within each company.  Company’s have human resource departments which only serve to protect the employer. You as an employee have nothing!  Well, now you have the Employee Survival Guide to deal with your employer.

Through the use of quick discussions about individual employment law topics, Mark easily provides the immediate insight you need to make important decisions.  Mark also uses dramatizations based on real cases he has litigated to explore important employment issues from the employee’s perspective.  Both forms used in the podcast allow the listener to access employment law issues without all the fluff used by many lawyers.

If you enjoyed this episode of the Employee Survival Guide please like us on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.  We would really appreciate if you could leave a review of this podcast on your favorite podcast player such as Apple Podcasts.

For more information, please contact Carey & Associates, P.C. at 203-255-4150, www.capclaw.com or email at info@capclaw.com.

The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice nor create an attorney-client relationship.  Carey & Associates, P.C. makes no warranty, express or implied, regarding the accuracy of the information contained on this website or to any website to which it is linked to.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting To Be Fired–Severance Negotiation

Podcast: Can You Sue Your Employer for Covid-19 Illness?

Can You Sue Your Employer for Covid-19 Illness?

By Chris Avcollie,

Can You Sue Your Employer for Covid-19 Illness?: Several faithful readers of our humble employment blog have asked us a pressing and important question that many employees are thinking about at the moment: “Can I sue my employer if I get Covid-19 at work?” As with most employment law questions, the answers are neither simple nor straightforward and they depend to a large extent on the laws of the state wherein the employment is located. The basic answer is: “Yes. You can sue your employer if you get Covid-19 at work except in states that have passed statutes prohibiting it, provided you can over-come the significant legal obstacles to this type of claim.” I will attempt to unpack some of the key issues surrounding this significant and timely inquiry. Let’s try to jump those legal hurdles!

The Initial Hurdle: Worker’s Compensation

The answer to the question: “Can I sue my employer if I get Covid-19 at work?” depends, in the first instance, upon what you mean by the word, “sue.” In a broad sense, most people consider “suing” to encompass any type of legal claim against another party. Lawyers, however, use this term to refer specifically to the initiation of a lawsuit against another party in court. In this instance, we must carefully distinguish between the term “lawsuit” or a civil action for damages brought in a trial court and “Worker’s Compensation claim,” which is an administrative action usually brought before a state agency to seek statutorily limited compensation for work related injuries.

In most cases where one can demonstrate that one has contracted Covid-19 at work, the infected employee can bring a Worker’s Compensation claim.  It is important to note that this is not a “lawsuit.” The primary difference between a “lawsuit” and a “Worker’s Compensation claim” is that a plaintiff in a lawsuit can seek full, fair, and just compensation for all of his or her damages and losses as well as equitable relief if applicable. In a Worker’s Compensation case, the claimant may seek only the limited damages set forth in the state’s Workers Compensation statutes. Worker’s Compensation is therefore a very limited remedy. The benefit of a claim under Worker’s Compensation laws is that unlike the plaintiff in a lawsuit, the claimant in a Worker’s Compensation suit need not prove that the employer was at fault or that he or she committed some negligence, recklessness, or misconduct which caused the damages. It is enough to prove that the injury or illness in this case, occurred at work. Additionally, the claimant in a Worker’s Compensation case need only prove the type of injury or illness sustained at work and the damages are then calculated by a statutory formula. Thus, the Worker’s Compensation system is considered a “trade-off.” Claimants give up a portion of the damages they could otherwise obtain at law, but they are relieved of much of the delay, cost, and burdens of proof that litigants face in court. Hereafter, we will refer to Worker’s Compensation cases as “claims” and actions for damages brought in court as “lawsuits.”

The most commonly available remedy for a worker who contracts Covid-19 at work is the Worker’s Compensation claim. Most every state that has a Worker’s Compensation system also has laws that make Worker’s Compensation the “sole and exclusive remedy” for all workplace illnesses or injuries. This means that a Worker’s Compensation claim is the only type of claim an employee may bring. Injured workers do not have a choice to pursue their damages in court if they wish. This means that as an initial matter, most cases involving Covid-19 at work are going to be resolved in the Worker’s Compensation process and no lawsuit may be filed except in very specific circumstances. That means most cases of workplace Covid-19 are going to be poorly compensated. Even in cases involving the death of the infected employee, the exclusivity rule of the Worker’s Compensation system will often prohibit the employee’s survivors from filing a lawsuit for wrongful death. Even survivor’s claims are strictly limited to the Worker’s Compensation system.

On February 14, 2021, Lauren Weber of The Wall Street Journal published an article captioned “Why So Many Covid-19 Workers’ Comp Claims Are Being Rejected“.  The take away is that employees are facing a high bar to prove their Covid-19 Workers’ Compensation claims.

The Liability Hurdle: Intentional or Willful Conduct

So what are the “specific circumstances” when an infected employee might be able to get around the exclusivity rule of the Worker’s Compensation system and file a Covid-19 lawsuit against their employer? One common exception to the exclusivity rule is the third-party exception. If a person or entity other than your employer causes your workplace illness or injury, an employee may sue that third party depending on the applicable state laws. Another common exception applies in some states in cases where the employer does not carry Worker’s Compensation insurance. In some states that do not include occupational illnesses in the category of compensable injuries under their Worker’s Compensation law, employees may sue their employers for Covid-19 infections. The most common exception to the exclusivity rule involves cases where the employer either intentionally or willfully engaged in misconduct that caused the worker’s illness or injury.

In Connecticut, this exception is called a “Suarez Case” after the case called Suarez v. Dickmont Plastics Corp., 242 Conn. 255 (1997), where the Connecticut Supreme Court held that employees could sue their employers (for illness or injury) in cases where the employee can prove: “either that the employer actually intended to injure the plaintiff (“actual intent” standard) or that the employer intentionally created a dangerous condition that made the plaintiff’s injuries substantially certain to occur (“substantial certainty” standard).” Id., at 257–58. This standard provides a very narrow exception to the exclusivity rule because it is so difficult to establish. The plaintiff employee must prove that the employer intentionally or deliberately created the dangerous situation under circumstances where the injury or illness was very likely to occur. Not many employers would deliberately harm their workers, so this is quite difficult to prove. Many states have exceptions similar to Connecticut’s Suarez exception, although the standards differ from state to state.

For example in some states such as Arizona and New York, the exception applies only if an employer’s purposeful actions were actually intended to harm the employee. Florida only allows the exception where an injured employee can prove that the employer’s actions were “virtually certain” to cause the worker’s injury, that the employee was unaware of the risk, and where the employer took steps to conceal the danger. Texas allows the exception only in cases that result in the wrongful death of the employee and only if the employer exhibited, “gross negligence.” New Jersey, like Connecticut, has a slightly lower but still formidable standard. New Jersey’s Supreme Court has held that the employee does not have to prove that the employer intended the harm the employee, only that there was a “substantial certainty” that the employee would be injured. While these state law exceptions to the exclusivity rule are burdensome, it is not yet clear in most states how courts will apply them to Covid-19 cases where employers disregard established safety protocols like mask-wearing, social-distancing, work from home options, and reduced capacity. Is Covid-19 “virtually certain to occur” in public workspaces where mask-wearing, health screening, and social distancing precautions are not enforced?

One important distinction to understand here is the difference between claims of negligence and those involving intentional conduct. While most injury lawsuits are based on the concept of “negligence” which is the standard of liability which applies where a party breaches the ordinary standards of care in circumstances where an injury is foreseeable, the exceptions to the Worker’s Compensation exclusivity rule generally require some level of intentional conduct to succeed. Employers who are merely negligent or careless can almost never be sued for Covid-19. Because of the exclusivity rule this means that employees cannot file a lawsuit in cases where an employer was merely negligent or careless in following Covid-19 protocols and workplace safety rules. In cases involving employer negligence or carelessness, only a Worker’s Compensation claim would be available. Merely proving careless or inconsistent enforcement of Covid-19 safety protocols is not enough to meet the exceptions to the exclusivity rule.

The Big Hurdle: Causation

In workplace Covid-19 lawsuits, the largest hurdle to overcome in my view is the hurdle of causation. A claimant in a Worker’s Compensation case only needs to prove that he or she contracted the virus at work. This in itself can be a herculean task. Extensive and well documented contact tracing and even genetic sequencing of the relevant strains of the virus by public health officials may be required to prove where and when someone contracted the disease. This can be devilishly challenging in the case of a highly contagious and widespread virus because it can be contracted easily almost anywhere one goes in public. If the coffee shop you stop to pick up coffee at on the way to work, the gas station you go to twice a week, and your grocery store, as well as your office all have cases of Covid-19, how can one prove that it was more likely than not that the would-be plaintiff caught the virus at one location and not the others? Merely proving that it is more likely than not that you contracted the virus at work is a huge task.

A plaintiff in a lawsuit, however, must not only prove that the virus was contracted at work, but also that the employer’s actions or inactions caused the employee to contract the illness.  This is a much more difficult burden of proof. Did the employer cause the employee to contract the virus where mask mandates were not enforced but social distancing was practiced? If cases of Covid-19 circulated among the staff who were required to wear masks can it be proven that the failure of the employer to enforce mask wearing among customers caused the employee’s illness?

 The Last Hurdle: Proving Damages

If an infected plaintiff employee is able to clear the Worker’s Compensation hurdle, overcome the intentional conduct hurdle, and summon evidence to surmount the causation hurdle, the final hurdle in bringing a Covid-19 case in court against your employer is proving and calculating the damages that you are asking to be awarded. As with liability, questions of damages are more easily resolved in a Worker’s Compensation claim than in a lawsuit. At Worker’s Compensation, damages are strictly limited to set categories of damages and a specific formula calculation. Damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress are often very limited or unavailable in a Worker’s Compensation claim.  In a lawsuit, however, each element of damage must be proven by the plaintiff by a preponderance of the evidence.

How does one calculate the damages suffered when one contracts a deadly disease amidst a global pandemic? Symptoms for Covid-19 can range from no symptoms at all to death and all levels of illness in between. Can damages be calculated for the suffering that occurs when one unknowingly infects one’s spouse or children with Covid-19 due to an employer’s misconduct? What damages should be awarded in cases where an infected employee is only mildly ill for several weeks but because the employee is suffering from medical conditions that put her at high risk of death from Covid-19, she spends those weeks in constant fear of imminent death?  How can a plaintiff be compensated where he or she is suffering from long term complications from Covid-19 that doctors do not know yet how to treat? While many types of damage are not compensable in the Worker’s Compensation context they must be proven and calculated in a lawsuit.

State Imposed Hurdles: Statutory Liability Shields

Some states have created special laws that shield some or all of its employers from lawsuits related to Covid-19. Many states, including Connecticut and New York, have enacted laws that shield healthcare facilities from liability related to Covid-19 infections. States such as Michigan have passed laws that shield all employers from Covid-19 liability. Ohio has passed a law that shields nearly all employers from Covid-19 liability from its workers unless the employer engaged in willful and reckless misconduct. Many of these state shielding laws have exceptions similar to the Worker’s Compensation exclusivity exceptions such as for intentional misconduct or intentional disregard of government imposed safety protocols.

Some creative plaintiffs and their lawyers have tried to get around these liability shields and the Workers Compensation hurdles by framing their lawsuits under alternative theories of liability. A number of lawsuits have been filed against employers who disregard Covid-19 safety protocols under theories that they have created a public nuisance. These suits allege that the employer is creating a dangerous situation to the public by failing to take proper Covid-19 precautions. Plaintiffs in these cases often seek court-ordered injunctions requiring the offending employer to enforce safety procedures. Cases have also been filed alleging the employer’s breach of OSHA safety guidelines. Other employees have sued their employers under whistleblower protection laws. Employees who file “whistleblower” claims have alleged that they were terminated illegally for complaining about the employer’s failure to follow proper safety protocols. Several states allow employees to bring claims of constructive discharge in Covid-19 cases. These claims allege that the employee was forced to quit her job because she was put in danger by her employer’s failure to follow safety protocols.

While these state imposed liability shields do not make it completely impossible to bring a lawsuit for Covid-19 in the workplace, they make the bar so high that only the most egregious cases of employer misconduct could have a chance of success.  Each state is currently working out its own legislative and judicial tolerance for worker suits related to Covid-19.

What to Do If You Are at Risk of Covid-19 Due to an Unsafe Workplace

Can You Sue Your Employer for Covid-19 Illness? Given the high hurdles the law has erected to make it difficult to sue an employer for a workplace Covid-19 infection, what can you do to protect yourself if your employer is not implementing appropriate safety precautions? I recommend the following:

-Report the unsafe conditions to your employer or Human Resources department in writing. In many cases employers want to provide a safe environment but they may not be aware of all of the protocol violations throughout their organization. Making your complaint in writing will also help to document your efforts to address the problem should you need to make a claim later.

-Document the violations of protocol as well as your efforts to communicate them to management. This is important to demonstrate the nature of the unsafe conditions should you need to prove them in later. Strong evidence of the unsafe conditions in the workplace will be needed for any type of claim or lawsuit related to Covid-19..

-If management does not address the Covid-19 related safety issues promptly, then make a report in writing to OSHA and to your state Department of Public Health. A detailed report outlining the safety violations and any other relevant information could trigger an agency investigation that could help address the issues.

-In some states you can terminate your employment and bring suit against your employer for constructive discharge if you are forced to quit in order to protect your health and safety. In other states you cannot bring such a suit but you may have to leave your job anyway. Although it is deeply unfair that employees sometimes have to choose between their health and their livelihood, the limited legal options provided to address Covid-19 in the workplace may make that life or death choice necessary.

-Seek an experienced employment attorney to help you navigate the situation. Dealing with an unsafe work environment due to Covid-19 can be difficult and confusing. There is no substitute for a skilled employment attorney in these circumstances. Seek legal advice as soon as you observe a problem at work.

Conclusion

Can You Sue Your Employer for Covid-19 Illness? The issue of whether to hold employers liable for Covid-19 infections in the workplace raises fundamental questions about our social and economic values. How should we apportion the inevitable risks of commercial activity in society? Should the employers shoulder more of the burden because they profit the most from the economic activity? Should employees deal with the risks themselves since they are free to choose more or less safe work environments as they wish?  Should the government provide some compensation to victims of Covid-19 who risked their health to increase our gross domestic product and therefore our national interests? While most Americans seem to honor the front-line workers who have courageously pulled our nation through the early stages of the pandemic, we seem to be reluctant to provide any equitable legal remedies to them when they become sick or die serving our collective good.  Removing some of the hurdles employees have to jump over to obtain compensation for unsafe working environments during the pandemic would be a great first step.

If you need advice on Can You Sue Your Employer for Covid-19 Illness? please contact us at Carey & Associates, P.C. at info@capclaw.com or call (203-255-4150Chris Avcollie is an Associate Employment Law Attorney with the firm.

Christopher S. Avcollie

 

Is It Worth It to Sue Your Employer?

Podcast: Can You Sue Your Employer for Covid-19 Illness?

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“Vaxed” is the New “Black”: Navigating Employer-Mandated Vaccinations

“Vaxed” is the New “Black”: Navigating Employer-Mandated Vaccinations

By Chris Avcollie

“Vaxed” is the New “Black”: Navigating Employer-Mandated Vaccinations: In 2021 there is a new status symbol that will determine who is “in” and who is “out” in many social situations. It’s not fashion or cars and it’s not your number of followers on social media. The new hot status for 2021 will be: “Vaxed” or “Un-Vaxed.”

As the FDA approved Covid-19 vaccines become more widely distributed over the next few months, the question of who is “Vaxed” and who is “Un-Vaxed” will start to take on tremendous importance. As new strains of Covid-19 spread we can easily imagine restaurants or stores with “Vaxed Only!” signs on their doors. One’s vaccination status could soon determine one’s access to schools, public conveyances, businesses, and churches. It may also determine where one can work.

As businesses and institutions grapple with the effects of the pandemic the wide availability of effective vaccines will force the issue of whether to require their employees to receive the vaccine in order to keep their jobs. (See related article Employer Mandated Covid-19 Vaccinations – Can They Do That?). For businesses in customer-facing industries like hospitality or food service, the question is pressing. Will anyone want to go to a barber that was not vaccinated? Wouldn’t customers feel safer eating at a restaurant where all employees are vaccinated? While many are awaiting the vaccine with anticipation, many have concerns about the vaccines and do not want them. Some are medically unable to receive a vaccine and others have personal or even religious objections to them. What right does an employee have to refuse an employer’s mandated Covid-19 vaccine? Will employees be fired for refusing? What can employer’s do to respond to valid and deeply held objections to a blanket vaccine requirement?

The basic rule is that in an employment at will situation an employer can require a vaccine as a condition of employment. Almost all employment in the US is employment at will. If an employee is a member of a union, then a vaccine mandate would be negotiated by the union, but would likely become a requirement at the end of that process. Even where an employee has an individually negotiated employment contract, those agreements often contain provisions that allow the employer to change company policies and job requirements, particularly for worker safety. Thus, in most all situations, an employer can require its workers to be vaccinated.

If it strikes you as outrageously unfair that employers can require you to undergo an intrusive medical procedure against your will and your only recourse is to give up your livelihood and sole means of support for you and your children, you are not alone. While most Americans are clamoring for this particular vaccine there is also widespread concern. Many women of child-bearing age have expressed objections based on the lack of longitudinal research on the effects of the vaccines on the reproductive system. Many people of color have expressed objections to the vaccine based on historic precedents of medical experimentation on minority populations. If the ability to force vaccinations on employees under threat of economic ruin seems to be too much power for employers, we can thank the “at will employment rule.” This is the great default principle of American employment law. It holds that employers can essentially do (or not do) anything they want to their employees provided they do not violate specific statutes. Under this rule, as long as they stay within the law, employers are a law unto themselves.

There are a few exceptions to this general rule allowing employer mandated vaccines. While the employment at will rule allows employers to require vaccines as a condition of employment, their vaccination policies must comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and other state and federal workplace laws. The question then becomes when do these laws prevent an employer’s vaccine requirement?

One limitation on an employer’s right to force vaccinations covers employees who cannot be vaccinated due to a disability. The ADA requires that if an employer’s vaccine requirement will force the termination of a worker who cannot be vaccinated due to a disability, the employer must show that the unvaccinated worker will pose a “direct threat” or will create a serious risk of “substantial harm” to the worker, co-workers, or the public. Only if that risk is significant and it cannot be eliminated or reduced by some reasonable accommodation can the disabled employee be terminated. The EEOC has provided some guidance on how employers should assess the potential risk of an unvaccinated employee including: assessing the duration, severity, likelihood, and imminence of the potential harm. If an accommodation such as masks, or a work from home option would reduce the risk, then the disabled employee should be accommodated.

While this exception is fairly easy to understand on paper, it might not be so easy to implement in the workplace. What if the only way to mitigate the risk and to accommodate the one disabled employee is to require all other employees and all customers to wear masks in the facility? Right now everyone expects to wear masks all the time anyway but what about when the mask restrictions could be lifted due to mass vaccinations? Will that still be a “reasonable accommodation?”

A second exception to the employer’s right to force vaccinations on their workers is carved out in Title VII. An employer must accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious objection to a vaccine unless the accommodation causes “undue hardship” to the employer. Sounds fair enough. The trouble with this rule is that the definition of “undue hardship” is any accommodation that has more than a “de minimis” or “absolutely minimal” cost or burden to an employer. How will courts apply this rule in the example above, where a single employee with a religious accommodation can continue to work only if all employees and customers are provided PPE? As this example suggests, the “de minimis” standard could be very difficult to meet in the workplace.

While the EEOC is trying to develop a set of workable guidelines that accommodates employee’s rights under existing laws like the ADA and Title VII, there are no accommodations available for the employee who objects to vaccination based on personal concerns like racial disparities or lack of research on fertility effects. For most workers who object to vaccination for a host of personal reasons, there will be no option for dissent. “Shoot up and shut up” will be the rule for many.

There are times when public safety and the protection of our economy should take precedence over personal choice. I personally intend to get vaccinated as soon as possible whether my employer wants me to or not. (Carey & Associates, P.C. will leave it to the employee’s discretion about whether to vaccinate or not). It is important however, to consider the power dynamics and the broad implications of the employment at will rule when it invades the province of our bodily integrity and personal conscience. In a world where politicians are willing to substitute facts for politically convenient fantasies, it is easy to imagine these power dynamics leading to much more extensive invasions of personal choice. In the short term at least, “Vaxed” is likely to be the new “Black.”

“Vaxed” is the New “Black”: Navigating Employer-Mandated Vaccinations: If you would like more information about this topic, please contact our employment attorneys at Carey & Associates, P.C. You can also send an email to info@capclaw.com or call (203) 255-4150.  If you liked this article, please leave us a review HERE.

 

Employer Mandated Covid-19 Vaccinations for All Employees

Employer Mandated Covid-19 Vaccinations- Can They Do That?

 

 

 

Podcast: Employer Mandated Covid-19 Vaccinations- Can They Do That?

Podcast: Employer Mandated Covid-19 Vaccinations- Can They Do That?

Podcast: Employer Mandated Covid-19 Vaccinations- Can They Do That? This episode explores the new controversy surrounding employer mandated Covid-19 vaccinations.  Can employers do that? The simple answer is yes.   The episode explores earlier governmental intrusion related to the smallpox epidemic of 1905 and then brings it forward to the current Covid-19 era.  Mark explores your liberty interest to be free from governmental intrusion now being orchestrated through each individual’s employment in the face of Employer mandated Covid-19 vaccinations.

The Employee Survival Guide is a podcast only for employees. We will share with you all the information your employer does not want you to know about and guide you through various important employment law issues. The goal of the Employee Survival Guide podcast is to provide you with critical insights about your employment and give you the confidence to protect your job and career, especially during difficult times.

YOUR HOST MARK CAREY

The Employee Survival Guide podcast is hosted by seasoned Employment Law Attorney Mark Carey, who has only practiced in the area of Employment Law for the past 25 years.  Mark has seen just about every type of employment dispute there is and has filed several hundred lawsuits in state and federal courts around the country, including class action suits.  He has a no frills and blunt approach to employment issues faced by millions of workers nationwide. Mark endeavors to provide both sides to each and every issue discussed on the podcast so you can make an informed decision.

EMPLOYEE SURVIVAL GUIDE PODCAST IS LIKE NO OTHERS

The Employee Survival Guide podcast is just different than other lawyer podcasts! How?  Mark hates “lawyer speak” used by lawyers and just prefers to talk using normal everyday language understandable to everyone, not just a few.  This podcast is for employees only because no one has considered conveying employment information directly to employees, especially information their employers do not want them to know about.  Mark is not interested in the gross distortion and default systems propagated by all employers, but targets the employers intentions, including discriminatory animus, designed to make employees feel helpless and underrepresented within each company.  Company’s have human resource departments which only serve to protect the employer. You as an employee have nothing!  Well, now you have the Employee Survival Guide to deal with your employer.

Through the use of quick discussions about individual employment law topics, Mark easily provides the immediate insight you need to make important decisions.  Mark also uses dramatizations based on real cases he has litigated to explore important employment issues from the employee’s perspective.  Both forms used in the podcast allow the listener to access employment law issues without all the fluff used by many lawyers.

If you enjoyed this episode of the Employee Survival Guide please like us on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.  We would really appreciate if you could leave a review of this podcast on your favorite podcast player such as Apple Podcasts.

For more information, please contact Carey & Associates, P.C. at 203-255-4150, www.capclaw.com or email at info@capclaw.com.

The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice nor create an attorney-client relationship.  Carey & Associates, P.C. makes no warranty, express or implied, regarding the accuracy of the information contained on this website or to any website to which it is linked to.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting To Be Fired–Severance Negotiation

Podcast: An Employment Severance Agreement Explained in Detail

Podcast: Employer Mandated Covid-19 Vaccinations- Can They Do That?

Employer Mandated Covid-19 Vaccinations- Can They Do That?

By Mark Carey

Employer Mandated Covid-19 Vaccinations- Can They Do That? Simple Answer- Yes!  After less than a year of this grueling Covid-19 pandemic, we were surprised to hear that a vaccine had been developed so quickly.  We are now in the vaccination roll out phase, which is proving to be not so simple.  As part of the nationwide vaccination process, the federal government has teamed up with employers to mandate employees vaccinate nationwide.

If you have not yet heard, employers are requiring employees to get the Covid-19 vaccination before returning to work.  How can an employer do this?  Is the Covid-19 vaccination a medical procedure wherein specific medical questions will be asked? What if I do not want to get vaccinated because of other medical health concerns? What if I object on religious grounds? The following discussion will answer these questions and more.

As vaccination for the Covid-19 virus is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, I decided to research this issue further.  I was curious about the history of mandatory vaccinations by the federal government and what role this plays on your liberty interest from government sponsored intrusion on your physical being. You will have to bear with me here as you will need a little constitutional law background to understand this state sponsored infringement of your liberty interest now being implemented through employers.

The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution mandates that no state shall make or enforce any law that abridges the privileges or immunities of the citizens of the United States or deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law.  Each State and the Federal government has a police power to enact health laws regarding lockdowns, quarantines and mandatory vaccination.  Under constitutional scrutiny analysis, legislation under the police power must be rationally related, which means it must have a substantial relationship to the legislative objective, and must not be unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious.

But the government’s police power also must balance against each individual’s right to self-autonomy such as the right to abortion, contraception and freedom from involuntary medical procedures. We as individuals have a right to protect our bodies against intrusion by the government.  However, this inalienable right must be balanced against our collective rights, such that your right to self-autonomy must not also harm your fellow Americans’ right to the same autonomy.  Hence, we confront the delicate balancing act that we now face regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and mandatory vaccinations through employment.

According to a New York Times article on January 14, 2021, “the government is not requiring people to take Covid-19 vaccines, but it has a long history of permitting such mandates. In 1905, for example, the Supreme Court upheld [Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts] the right of authorities to require smallpox vaccinations.  Many hospitals require some staff to get vaccinated against the flu or hepatitis B. Children must get certain vaccines to be enrolled in school.” By the way, history has demonstrated that mandatory vaccination led to the complete elimination of the smallpox virus, only after it infected 300 million people.

Using the Covid-19 pandemic as the present backdrop, in 1905 the Supreme Court in Jacobson, which is still good law, eerily held the following. But first, I quote the question presented to the Court, “[i]s the statute, so construed, therefore, inconsistent with the liberty which the Constitution of the United States secures to every person against deprivation by the state?”  The Court answered the question by holding the state could exercise its’ police power to require mandatory vaccination against smallpox:

“The defendant insists that his liberty is invaded when the state subjects him to fine or imprisonment for neglecting or refusing to submit to vaccination; that a compulsory vaccination law is unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive, and, therefore, hostile to the inherent right of every freeman [person] to care for his [their] own body and health in such way as to him [everyone] seems best; and that the exception of such a law against one who objects to vaccination, no matter for what reason, is nothing short of an assault upon his [their] person. But the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restrain.  There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis organized society could not exist with safety to its members. Society based on the rule that each one is a law unto himself [themselves] would soon be confronted with disorder and anarchy.  Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his [their] own, whether in respect of his [their] person or his [their] property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.  This court has more than once recognized it as a fundamental principle that ‘persons and property are subjected to all kinds of restraints and burdens in order to secure the general comfort, health, and prosperity of the state…”

On December 16, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued updated guidance supporting mandatory vaccination by employers, subject to some exceptions regarding disability, genetic privacy and religious exemption.

“If there is a direct threat that cannot be reduced to an acceptable level, the employer can exclude the employee from physically entering the workplace, but this does not mean the employer may automatically terminate the worker.  Employers will need to determine if any other rights apply under the EEO laws or other federal, state, and local authorities.  For example, if an employer excludes an employee based on an inability to accommodate a request to be exempt from a vaccination requirement, the employee may be entitled to accommodations such as performing the current position remotely. This is the same step that employers take when physically excluding employees from a worksite due to a current COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms; some workers may be entitled to telework or, if not, may be eligible to take leave under the Families First Coronavirus    Response Act, under the FMLA, or under the employer’s policies.” (EEOC Guidance on Covid-19 Vaccinations)

Please see items K.6 and K.7 in the EEOC Guidance regarding important exceptions to mandatory vaccination due to existing disability and religious observance grounds. The guidance also explains that mandatory vaccination programs instituted by employers must not ask questions that impermissibly seek employee medical information.  According to the EEOC, the mandatory vaccination is not a medical procedure and thus is permissible.

But what becomes of this state power now entrusted upon private employers and the role of our liberty interest when employers mandate employees to vaccinate.  Is our liberty interest invaded?  Is the state police power operating through the hands of the employer?  Can you sue your employer on constitutional grounds?  I will endeavor to say that it is a close question of law and preferred that the federal government does not lean so heavily on us through such a vital means of our individual financial situations, aka our jobs. Please note, there exists no federal legislation here mandating vaccination, but only an agency guidance, which only garners judicial deferential treatment as the EEOC is one of several federal agencies charged with regulating workplace rights.  The EEOC’s state action touches too closely for my own comfort level.  But like smallpox, Covid-19 has wreaked havoc and killed thousands and we can all unanimously agree the government, as in a time of war, must intervene to protect us against this deadly virus, even if it means jeopardizing our individual liberty interests.   Covid-19 will not go away and I am sure the EEOC and future legislative bodies are cognizant of our individual liberty interests and desire not to trample them so haphazardly, which would not pass constitutional muster.  In the end, like smallpox, Covid-19 must be eradicated so you and I can return to the normal we all took for granted before this historic episode began.

Obviously, we are at threshold of this legal analysis regarding employer mandated vaccination, not the end. The EEOC guidance is just that guidance, not law and not codified regulation of a federal agency.  We need more time and further factual development to determine if state police power is currently operational and then is such power infringing upon our liberty interests and having a significant resulting injury to many.

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Carey & Associates, P.C. at www.capclaw.com or send an email to info@capclaw.com.  Thank you!

“Vaxed” is the New “Black”: Navigating Employer-Mandated Vaccinations

Employer Mandated Covid-19 Vaccinations for All Employees

 

 

 

The Gathering Storm: COVID Rages While Worker Relief Laws Sunset

The Gathering Storm: COVID Rages While Worker Relief Laws Sunset

By Fran Slusarz,

The Gathering Storm: COVID Rages While Worker Relief Laws Sunset: Way back in March, when I read the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), I thought they were great. Increased unemployment benefits through the end of July, unemployment benefits for up to 37 weeks, unemployment benefits for gig workers, two weeks of paid leave in case you or a loved one gets sick, and up 12 weeks of paid emergency family medical leave if you are unable to work because your child’s school or child care becomes unavailable. Americas workers were being looked after when we need it most.

The laws weren’t perfect. They had loopholes that allowed large and well-capitalized businesses to grab Paycheck Protection Program loans intended for small businesses. But as imperfect as they are, no one thought we would be facing the same emergency in November as we faced in March. No one anticipated we’d have 8 months of lockdown, remote learning, masking, social distancing, and a quarter of a million dead Americans.

Yet here we are. New York City just announced that it is closing its public schools and returning to all-remote learning. My hometown’s public school system did not open at all this fall. (But we did get the John Oliver Memorial Sewer Plant. Comme ci, comme ça.)

What does this mean for American workers? It’s not good.

The worker protections in the FFCRA and the CARES Act end on December 31, 2020. Happy New Year! Congress is in recess until after Thanksgiving and no one expects them to become serious about coronavirus relief when they return. Even if Congress did, no one expects the President to focus it.

Our best-case scenario is a stopgap agreement to extend the laws for a few weeks for the new Congress to and new administration to take office. But a stopgap won’t be enough for many Americans.

Remember that generous two weeks of paid sick leave if we develop coronavirus symptoms? Common cold symptoms caused many of us to use days – and rightly so – but slow test results had us burn through more sick days than necessary waiting for the negative results that allowed us to return to work. I’ve had two coronavirus scares in the last 8 months, both negative. If I couldn’t work from home, I would have used up my emergency paid sick leave and then some.

Remember those 12 weeks of paid Emergency Family Medical Leave? If your children are especially attentive and diligent teenagers, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Everyone else, chances are good you’ve already used a lot of that time caring for your younger children and playing teacher for your older children. My youngest is 16. Brilliant, but not especially attentive. I was reminded daily why I dropped my secondary ed major, and why it was the right decision.

Next, the unemployed. The good news is that the jobs numbers have been better than many expected. We hit a high of 14.7% unemployment in April, falling to 6.9% in October. This is a wonderful improvement, but it is so much higher than the 3.6% unemployment of January. The bad news is that the enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 per week ended on July 31, 2020, and the extended benefits for 37 weeks to gig workers and regular employees alike ends December 31, 2020.

Finally, the grim reality. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projects that we will reach 320,000 deaths from COVID-19 by year end.

Wear your bleeping mask. And call your mother. She hasn’t seen you in months. Happy Friday!

The Gathering Storm: COVID Rages While Worker Relief Laws Sunset- If you would like more information about this article, please contact our employment attorneys at Carey & Associates, P.C. or email to info@capclaw.com.

New Federal Law Grants Paid Leave for Coronavirus

For Employees – Frequently Asked Questions During COVID-19

Carey Quoted in Wall Street Journal Article: What Rights Do Furloughed Employees Have?

Carey Quoted in Wall Street Journal Article: What Rights Do Furloughed Employees Have?

Here’s what to know about health insurance benefits, freelance work, unemployment and more

Furloughed workers face uncertainty in a pandemic-stricken economy.

PHOTO: NAM Y. HUH/ASSOCIATED PRESS

By Anne Steele
Link to Orginal article.

What rights do furloughed employees have?

The bottom line

A furlough generally means workers’ hours have been cut or eliminated temporarily, or requires that they take a certain amount of unpaid time off. Furloughed workers are still considered active employees and eligible for some benefits. While furlough doesn’t have a technical legal meaning, employers—especially since the onset of the pandemic—are using the term to signal that it’s a status where employees can expect to maintain their health care benefits and eventually be called back to work. Still, a furlough can lead to termination.

The details

A furlough does not offer job security, though employers choosing to put employees on such leave typically intend to bring them back.

“Employers are operating in a lot of uncertainty right now, where they truly believed what would be two to three months then became eight months, and they’re now having to forecast business needs in a different environment,” says Stephanie Lewis, an attorney with employment law firm Jackson Lewis in Greenville, S.C. “We are seeing companies that are having to convert furloughs into layoffs.”

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

Have you or someone you know been furloughed during the pandemic? Share your experience below.

Furloughed workers, while still considered active employees, aren’t paid for time they don’t work. If, however, employers ask employees to work at any point during a furlough, workers must be paid in accordance with their regular salary or hourly rate, says attorney Mark Carey of Carey & Associates, an employment law firm in Southport, Conn.

In the meantime, furloughed employees can and should apply for unemployment benefits. All state unemployment systems were modified to make such workers eligible to collect unemployment.

“You should apply for every week you’re off. Even if you’re off one week and on the next,” says Ms. Lewis.

And while the employer can dictate the length and span of furlough, many are offering flexibility where they can, allowing workers to choose which weeks or months to take off.

If employers furlough employees without terminating their employment, they should make sure those workers are continually offered health care coverage to avoid penalties under the Affordable Care Act.

In fact, says Ms. Lewis, “most employers have worked hard for permission to keep employees covered by benefits.” Many furloughed workers are now crossing into a period where they would be ineligible for coverage—typically after 60 or 90 days on most benefit plans if they’re not actively at work—and would have to move to Cobra, which is more expensive for many people. Employers have requested approval to retain coverage, and benefits providers have allowed that, says Ms. Lewis.

An employer can’t restrict furloughed employees from taking other work outside the company—and employees who find other work may choose to remain in that job even if they’re called back by their original employer.

Companies bringing employees back to work must also treat furloughed employees equally or discrimination issues may arise. “These have to be equal-employment opportunity scenarios with furloughing and bringing employees back to work. People could raise issues of gender, race and age,” says Mr. Carey. Age tends to be the largest problem in rehiring after furlough, he says, as workers who are older tend to be paid more because they’ve been employed longer.

Write to Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com

****

For more information about this topic, please contact our employment attorneys at Carey & Associates, PC at 203-255-4150 or email to info@capclaw.com. Thank you.

The Covid-19 Catch-All: Why Your Recent Termination Might Have Been Unlawful

Covid-19 and Noncompetition Agreements: 4 Situations Where They Are Not Enforceable

Thinking Outside the “Black Box”: The Interactive Process of Disability Accommodations During Covid-19

Thinking Outside the “Black Box”: The Interactive Process of Disability Accommodations During Covid-19

By Chris Avcollie

“In science, computing, and engineering, a ‘black box’ is a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs…without any knowledge of its internal workings. Its implementation is ‘opaque’ ([i.e.] black). Almost anything might be referred to as a black box: a transistor, an engine, an algorithm, the human brain, an institution or government.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_box).

When it comes to the world of requests for disability accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act, the “black box” or the “unseen internal mechanism,” is the ever elusive “interactive process”. This is the process of information gathering and discussion between the employee requesting the disability accommodation and the employer who is obligated to determine whether the accommodation requested will be granted.  I analogize this process to a “black box” because it is inherently opaque. Why? While the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act require that both employers and employees engage in this interactive process, neither statute precisely defines what it is or when it starts or ends. It is not clear what precisely the employer must do in this process or what the employee can and should expect. How long should the process take? How does anyone know if they are doing it correctly? How do we know the proper accommodations were considered?

Now factor in the public health, work place safety, and personal medical complexities of the Covid-19 pandemic and the concomitant work-from home revolution and the box becomes even blacker. Do employers have to offer the same accommodations to teleworkers that they offered to workers when they were on site? Are accommodations automatically available for those with health conditions that put them at greater risk for Covid-19? If a disabled employee was able to do her job during temporary telework periods due to Covid-19, is she entitled to continue telework after the employer resumes regular operations?  More importantly, what is the specific “interactive process” that will be used to decide these issues?

Let’s see if we can figure out what is going on inside the black box. As with all black box analysis we are going to examine the “inputs” and “outputs” to determine what unseen principle or byzantine process is going on inside the box itself.  The “inputs” will be specific request for accommodation scenarios and the “outputs” will be the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) guidelines and recommendations for ADA requests for accommodation during Coivid-19.[1]

First, let’s look at the box itself.  The EEO laws, including the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, continue to apply during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the ADA, “reasonable accommodations” are adjustments or modifications in the facilities, operations, or equipment provided by an employer to enable people with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities. If a reasonable accommodation is needed and requested by an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform a job, or enjoy benefits and privileges of employment, the employer must provide it unless it would pose an “undue hardship,” on the employer. “Undue hardship” means “significant difficulty or expense.” That is the basic reasonable accommodation rule under the ADA.

An employer has the discretion to choose among effective accommodations. Where a requested accommodation would result in undue hardship, the employer must offer an alternative accommodation if one is available that will not impose an undue hardship. But how is that determination made by the employer? The not so simple answer is: “Through the ‘interactive process.’” We have now entered the black box.

The “interactive process”, as described above, is the information gathering and discussion process between the employee requesting the disability accommodation and the employer. It begins when a request for accommodation is made by an employee and the employer responds. Where it ends is more difficult to pinpoint. This process may continue or stop and resume again when circumstances change. It should really be thought of as an on-going process. Let’s look at some “inputs” and “outputs” to see how the “interactive process” works:

›           If my job requires me to be on-site and I have a preexisting medical condition that makes me especially vulnerable to Covid-19, am I entitled to reasonable accommodations under the ADA?

Possibly. The threshold question is whether your condition is a disability as defined by the ADA. If the condition is not a disability under the ADA you might not be entitled to accommodation even if you are at higher risk. The ADA defines a “disability” as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, or a history of a substantially limiting impairment.” When requesting an accommodation, the employee should ask his or her physician whether the condition in question meets that definition. Some physical and mental conditions which meet the definition include but are not limited to: heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, compromised immunity, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. In this example, the employer would begin the interactive process by asking questions and/or requesting medical documentation from the employee to determine whether the condition for which the employee is requesting an accommodation is an ADA disability. If it is not, then the process will likely end with a denial. If the condition is in fact an ADA disability then the interactive process continues with an exploration of the accommodations possible and available.

          If my job is on-site and I have a preexisting medical condition (which is an ADA disability) that makes me especially vulnerable to Covid-19, how do I know what accommodations I can get?

The type of accommodations needed are usually proposed initially by the employee or her physician. The interactive process continues here as the employer then asks questions such as: (1) how the disability creates a limitation, (2) how the requested accommodation will effectively address the limitation, (3) whether another form of accommodation could effectively address the issue, and (4) how a proposed accommodation will enable the employee to continue performing the “essential functions” of her position (that is, the fundamental job duties). Some recommended Covid-19 accommodations to reduce exposure include without limitation: changes to the work environment such as designating one-way aisles; using plexiglass, tables, or other barriers to ensure minimum distances between customers and coworkers; providing personal protective equipment (PPE); temporary job restructuring of marginal job duties; temporary transfers to a different position; or modifying a work schedule or shift assignment may also permit an individual with a disability to perform safely the essential functions of the job while reducing exposure. Flexibility by employers and employees is important in determining if some accommodation is possible in the circumstances.

         Can my employer just say that my requested accommodations pose an “undue hardship,” and not engage in any sort of process?

The employer may not simply deny a requested accommodation without engaging in the interactive process. The employer is required to actually “discuss” the accommodations with the employee. If a particular requested accommodation would result in undue hardship, the employer must offer an alternative accommodation if one is available that does not involve undue hardship.( In discussing accommodation requests, the EEOC recommends that employers and employees consult the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) website for types of accommodations, www.askjan.org. JAN’s materials specific to COVID-19 are at https://askjan.org/topics/COVID-19.cfm.) The discussion of proposed accommodations and the proposal of alternatives is part of the required process. Further, a general denial by an employer is insufficient. Undue hardship must be based on an individualized assessment of current circumstances that show that a specific reasonable accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense. The employer must consider certain factors such as:

  • the nature and cost of the accommodation needed;
  • the overall financial resources of the facility making the reasonable accommodation; the number of persons employed at this facility; the effect on expenses and resources of the facility;
  • the overall financial resources, size, number of employees, and type and location of facilities of the employer (if the facility involved in the reasonable accommodation is part of a larger entity);
  • the type of operation of the employer, including the structure and functions of the workforce, the geographic separateness, and the administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility involved in making the accommodation to the employer; and
  • the impact of the accommodation on the operation of the facility.

If the employer cannot answer questions regarding these topics, it is likely that the interactive process was not properly conducted.

          When is an accommodation too costly? How can my employer decide? Won’t employers just say anything that costs money is too costly?

“Undue hardship” is determined based on the net cost to the employer. Employers are required to actually calculate costs and to consider all possible sources of outside funding when assessing whether a particular accommodation would be too costly. Thus, an employer is not only required to assess the cost-impact of a requested accommodation on the organization but must also determine whether funding is available from an outside source, such as a state rehabilitation agency, to pay for all or part of the accommodation. In addition, the employer should determine whether it is eligible for certain tax credits or deductions to offset the cost of the accommodation. If only a portion of the cost of an accommodation causes undue hardship, the employer should ask the individual with a disability if she or he will pay the difference. If an employer determines that one particular reasonable accommodation will cause undue hardship, but a second type of reasonable accommodation will be effective and will not cause an undue hardship, then the employer must provide the second accommodation. Again, if the employer is engaging in the interactive process in good faith, these points will be considered and discussed with the employee.

          Besides providing many new reasons for needing accommodations, how does Covid-19 affect the interactive process with my employer, if at all?

The interactive process is largely about assessing the relative burden of a particular accommodation on the employer’s operation. Therefore it makes sense that the financial, economic, and situational conditions affecting the workplace due to Covid-19 will factor into that calculus. In some cases, an accommodation that would not have posed an undue hardship prior to the pandemic may pose one in the new conditions imposed by Covid-19. Further, an employer may consider whether current circumstances create “significant difficulty” in acquiring or providing certain accommodations considering the facts of the particular workplace. For example, it may be more difficult now to conduct a needs assessment or to acquire certain PPE items. Covid-19 could cause “excusable delays” in the interactive process. The loss of some or all of an employer’s income stream because of the pandemic may affect the calculation of whether an accommodation is too costly. The physical layout of the facility may have changed due to Covid-19 safety measures, and a particular accommodation might not be feasible. Temporary accommodations might be granted and later changed or withdrawn as circumstances change. It might be easier to accommodate a request for telework or more difficult to obtain a temporary worker to take on marginal job duties. These complex factors make the interactive process more important than ever. Flexibility, creativity, and effort are needed to come up with workable accommodations in this challenging environment. The EEOC advises that there are many no-cost or very low-cost accommodations that can be found to assist those struggling to work during Covid-19.

          If I have a family member who has a medical condition (which is an ADA disability) that makes him/her especially vulnerable to Covid-19, does the ADA provide accommodations for me to reduce the risk of indirectly exposing my family member?

No. While the ADA does prohibit discrimination based on one’s association with an individual with a disability, that protection is limited to disparate treatment or actual harassment. The ADA does not require employers to accommodate an employee without a disability based on the disability-related needs of a family member or other person with whom she is associated. Of course, an employer is free to provide such an accommodation if it chooses. While caregivers and family members of individuals with disabilities are not entitled to accommodations under the ADA, they may be entitled to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. If an employee’s close family member has Covid-19, the FMLA could provide leave to care for that family member.

          If I have a medical condition (which is an ADA disability) that makes me especially vulnerable to Covid-19 and my employer allowed me (and others) to work remotely for a period of time, does my employer automatically have to grant me telework as a reasonable accommodation when the company returns to on-site work?

Not necessarily. Whenever an accommodation is requested the employer can engage in the interactive process and determine whether there is a disability related reason for it and whether there is an undue hardship under the circumstances. This is a fact-specific inquiry that can be made at the time the accommodation is requested. If the employee’s disability does not cause a limitation that will be relieved by telework, then it need not be granted. Further, if the employee’s disability related limitation can be addressed with another accommodation then that accommodation may be provided instead of telework. Additionally, if the telework arrangement requires the employer to excuse the employee from certain essential functions of the job, the employer need not excuse that function even if it did so voluntarily for a period of time out of necessity.  The ADA does not require an employer to eliminate an essential function of a position as an accommodation. However, if the disability related limitation would be removed by telework and all essential functions of the employee’s job were performed satisfactorily during the telework period, then the period of telework could be seen as an experiment that demonstrates that the accommodation was effective and satisfies all job requirements.  The interactive process must be flexible, cooperative, and truly interactive to determine what accommodations will work for employer and employee.

Based on our “black box” analysis here, it seems that the “unseen mechanism” that makes the interactive process work is some combination of cooperation, communication, and flexibility. While the specific results may vary widely depending on the factors mentioned here, it is clear that in the age of Covid-19, obtaining the right output from the “black box” that is the ADA interactive process requires a lot of input from all involved.

If you or someone you know needs advice or assistance in navigating a request for accommodation, please contact us at info@capclaw.com  or call 203-255-4150 and speak to one of the employment lawyers at Carey & Associates, P.C.

[1] All of the substantive information contained herein is derived from the EEOC website at: https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws

Christopher S. Avcollie

Podcast: Thinking Outside the “Black Box”: The Interactive Process of Disability Accommodations During Covid-19

What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws

Podcast Episode: COVID-19 CANCELS ALL NONCOMPETE AGREEMENTS DUE TO IMPOSSIBILITY

Podcast Episode: COVID-19 CANCELS ALL NONCOMPETE AGREEMENTS DUE TO IMPOSSIBILITY

[TRANSCRIPT]

You’re a free agent and your noncompetition agreement is void!  That should make you feel less stressed about getting your next job in the very industry you have spent so many years cultivating, especially during this pandemic.  Yes, I know your employer made you sign a noncompetition agreement when you were hired, but Covid-19 has changed everything.

I did not like noncompetition agreements before Covid-19 and I dislike them even more now seven months into this pandemic.  According to the latest jobs report, click HERE, “the total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending September 19 was 25,505,499…”  If you are a judge presiding over a complaint brought by an employer attempting to enforce a noncompetition agreement, would you enforce it against the unemployed employee in the face of these jobless numbers? Answer, No!  Regardless of the law related to noncompetition agreements (restrictive covenant), no judge will want to prevent employees terminated without cause from getting a new job. Who is going to pay for the employee’s food?  Who is going to pay for the employee’s mortgage?  How is she going to buy medication or diapers?

The time has now come to confront the idiotic, senseless and self-serving practice followed by 50% of all employers to force noncompetition agreements on vulnerable employees, especially during this pandemic. We need to protect employees and the income they need right now to survive.  We also need to confront employers and demand they stop using noncompetition agreements altogether because they are abusive and unnecessary. Employers are already overprotected by making employees sign Confidentiality and Proprietary Information Agreements, which protect against the disclosure of company trade secrets to third party employers.

NONCOMPETE MUST BE VOIDED DUE TO IMPOSSIBILITY

What does impossibility mean in relation to noncompetition agreements during the Covid-19 pandemic? Courts generally apply the doctrine of impossibility whenever there is an interference in achieving the purpose of the contract between the parties that is beyond their control and it was never foreseen prior to entering into the contract. “A thing is impossible in legal contemplation when it is not practicable; and a thing is impracticable when it can only be done at an excessive and unreasonable cost.” Roy v. Stephen Pontiac-Cadillac, Inc., 15 Conn. App. 101, 103-04 (1988) (internal citations omitted.) When impossibility is raised, “the court is asked to construct a condition of performance based on changed circumstances, a process which involves at least three reasonably definable steps. First, a contingency—something unexpected—must have occurred. Second, the risk of the unexpected occurrence must not have been allocated either by agreement or by custom. Finally, occurrence of the contingency must have rendered performance commercially impracticable.” Id. at 104, quoting J. Calamari & J. Perillo, Contracts (3d Ed.) § 13-1, p. 537; see also Hess v. Dumouchel Paper Co., 154 Conn. 343, 349-52 (1966)

All employers “intentionally” manipulate employees to sign noncompete agreements in order to get the job, i.e. take it or leave it.  Employers typically seek to prevent employees from working for a competitor for a period of twelve months after termination.  Bam! A pandemic hits the U.S. and the world. That’s the impossibility event.  Massive layoffs follow, covering nearly 40 million people. By the way, an estimated 157.76 million people work in the U.S.  Of course we want the economy to return to normal as quickly as possible, and those unemployed workers are part of that economy.  If 50% of all employers use noncompetition agreements, then we have a major economic obstruction caused by self-serving employers who deliberately seek to prevent these unemployed workers from earning a living.  Sounds unfair, because it is.  It is impossible for any employee to comply with the one sided noncompetition agreement because they need to put food on the table and just survive.  That is the argument I am making and will make in every court case my firm becomes involved with.  This is a public policy crisis plain and simple.  There exist no current Covid-19 court decisions on this issue, but there are a few cases now in the pipeline. The public, the politicians and the courts are faced with a major public policy dilemma. Should the courts protect employers for the sake of protection alone or can they help employees by overriding noncompetition agreements entirely.  I believe the scales tilt heavily in favor of employees, employed and unemployed alike.

WHAT IS A NONCOMPETE AGREEMENT IN 2020?

It is a promise the employee allegedly makes, without his/her consent, with their employer that after they are terminated, they need to refrain from accepting employment in a similar line of work, with a competitive company, or establishing a competing business, for a specified period in a certain geographical area. A non-compete clause ancillary to a valid agreement is unreasonable in restraint of trade and void as a matter of law if: (1) the restraint is greater than is needed to protect the business and goodwill of the employer; or (2) the employer’s need is outweighed by the hardship to the employee and the likely injury to the public. In other words, if you are unable to earn a living because you are sitting on the bench during the noncompete period, without pay, solely because of the employer’s self-serving noncompete, then a Court will void the agreement.  The employer is already protected from the employee because the employer forced the vulnerable employee to sign the confidentiality agreement, a.k.a. Confidentiality and Proprietary Information Agreement, which protects against disclosure of company trade secrets to third party employers.

WHAT IS THE BUSINESS INTEREST?

The argument in favor of enforcing noncompete agreements is primarily to protect the company’s trade secrets, client relations, customer goodwill, employee training.  However, restraining competition is not a legitimate and enforceable business interest.  As I have repeatedly stated, the employer is already protected against disclosures of trade secrets through the Confidentiality and Proprietary Information Agreement.  The employer’s argument that a noncompete agreement is necessary to prevent the disclosure of trade secrets to third party employers is simply abusive and overreaching.

NONCOMPETE AGREEMENTS VIOLATE ANTITRUST LAW

I argue that noncompetition agreements violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act because every noncompete agreement is an unlawful contract to restrain trade.   Section 2 of the Sherman Act makes it illegal to “monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, …any part of the trade…”  (The Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C.§ 1)

You will never hear an argument in any litigation over the attempted enforcement of an employee noncompete agreement that the enforcing employer was seeking to restrain competition of its competitor businesses. Such a statement and action would constitute an unlawful antitrust action.  But we know in reality, that is exactly what employers are doing.  This conclusion is further supported by the recent statistics that nearly 49% of all employers use  noncompetition agreement for some or all of their employees, a doubling of the amount from 2014.  Noncompetition Agreements are a tool to kill competition, plain and simple.  Do not fall for the argument about protecting the company from rogue employees seeking to damage the employer. This accusation, albeit true in the rarest of circumstances, is specious given the employer made the employee sign an agreement to protect the employer’s trade secrets, the Confidentiality and Proprietary Information Agreement.

If you enjoyed this episode of the Employee Survival Guide please like us on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.  We would really appreciate if you could leave a review of this podcast on your favorite podcast player such as Apple Podcasts.

Podcast Episode: COVID-19 CANCELS ALL NONCOMPETE AGREEMENTS DUE TO IMPOSSIBILITY: For more information, please contact Carey & Associates, P.C. at 203-255-4150, www.capclaw.com or email at info@capclaw.com.

The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice nor create an attorney-client relationship.  Carey & Associates, P.C. makes no warranty, express or implied, regarding the accuracy of the information contained on this website or to any website to which it is linked to.

Say No To Noncompete Agreements At Work

Paying Employees Not to Compete is Better Than Suing Them

Podcast Episode: COVID-19 CANCELS ALL NONCOMPETE AGREEMENTS DUE TO IMPOSSIBILITY

COVID-19 CANCELS ALL NONCOMPETE AGREEMENTS DUE TO IMPOSSIBILITY

By Mark Carey

You’re a free agent and your noncompetition agreement is void!  That should make you feel less stressed about getting your next job in the very industry you have spent so many years cultivating, especially during this pandemic.  Yes, I know your employer made you sign a noncompetition agreement when you were hired, but Covid-19 has changed everything.

I did not like noncompetition agreements before Covid-19 and I dislike them even more now seven months into this pandemic.  According to the latest jobs report, click HERE, “the total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending September 19 was 25,505,499…”  If you are a judge presiding over a complaint brought by an employer attempting to enforce a noncompetition agreement, would you enforce it against the unemployed employee in the face of these jobless numbers? Answer, No!  Regardless of the law related to noncompetition agreements (restrictive covenant), no judge will want to prevent employees terminated without cause from getting a new job. Who is going to pay for the employee’s food?  Who is going to pay for the employee’s mortgage?  How is she going to buy medication or diapers?

The time has now come to confront the idiotic, senseless and self-serving practice followed by 50% of all employers to force noncompetition agreements on vulnerable employees, especially during this pandemic. We need to protect employees and the income they need right now to survive.  We also need to confront employers and demand they stop using noncompetition agreements altogether because they are abusive and unnecessary. Employers are already overprotected by making employees sign Confidentiality and Proprietary Information Agreements, which protect against the disclosure of company trade secrets to third party employers.

Noncompete Must Be Voided Due to Impossibility

What does impossibility mean in relation to noncompetition agreements during the Covid-19 pandemic? Courts generally apply the doctrine of impossibility whenever there is an interference in achieving the purpose of the contract between the parties that is beyond their control and it was never foreseen prior to entering into the contract. “A thing is impossible in legal contemplation when it is not practicable; and a thing is impracticable when it can only be done at an excessive and unreasonable cost.” Roy v. Stephen Pontiac-Cadillac, Inc., 15 Conn. App. 101, 103-04 (1988) (internal citations omitted.) When impossibility is raised, “the court is asked to construct a condition of performance based on changed circumstances, a process which involves at least three reasonably definable steps. First, a contingency—something unexpected—must have occurred. Second, the risk of the unexpected occurrence must not have been allocated either by agreement or by custom. Finally, occurrence of the contingency must have rendered performance commercially impracticable.” Id. at 104, quoting J. Calamari & J. Perillo, Contracts (3d Ed.) § 13-1, p. 537; see also Hess v. Dumouchel Paper Co., 154 Conn. 343, 349-52 (1966)

All employers “intentionally” manipulate employees to sign noncompete agreements in order to get the job, i.e. take it or leave it.  Employers typically seek to prevent employees from working for a competitor for a period of twelve months after termination.  Bam! A pandemic hits the U.S. and the world. That’s the impossibility event.  Massive layoffs follow, covering nearly 40 million people. By the way, an estimated 157.76 million people work in the U.S.  Of course we want the economy to return to normal as quickly as possible, and those unemployed workers are part of that economy.  If 50% of all employers use noncompetition agreements, then we have a major economic obstruction caused by self-serving employers who deliberately seek to prevent these unemployed workers from earning a living.  Sounds unfair, because it is.  It is impossible for any employee to comply with the one sided noncompetition agreement because they need to put food on the table and just survive.  That is the argument I am making and will make in every court case my firm becomes involved with.  This is a public policy crisis plain and simple.  There exist no current Covid-19 court decisions on this issue, but there are a few cases now in the pipeline. The public, the politicians and the courts are faced with a major public policy dilemma. Should the courts protect employers for the sake of protection alone or can they help employees by overriding noncompetition agreements entirely.  I believe the scales tilt heavily in favor of employees, employed and unemployed alike.

What is a Noncompete Agreement in 2020?

It is a promise the employee allegedly makes, without his/her consent, with their employer that after they are terminated, they need to refrain from accepting employment in a similar line of work, with a competitive company, or establishing a competing business, for a specified period in a certain geographical area. A non-compete clause ancillary to a valid agreement is unreasonable in restraint of trade and void as a matter of law if: (1) the restraint is greater than is needed to protect the business and goodwill of the employer; or (2) the employer’s need is outweighed by the hardship to the employee and the likely injury to the public. In other words, if you are unable to earn a living because you are sitting on the bench during the noncompete period, without pay, solely because of the employer’s self-serving noncompete, then a Court will void the agreement.  The employer is already protected from the employee because the employer forced the vulnerable employee to sign the confidentiality agreement, a.k.a. Confidentiality and Proprietary Information Agreement, which protects against disclosure of company trade secrets to third party employers.

What is the Business Interest?

The argument in favor of enforcing noncompete agreements is primarily to protect the company’s trade secrets, client relations, customer goodwill, employee training.  However, restraining competition is not a legitimate and enforceable business interest.  As I have repeatedly stated, the employer is already protected against disclosures of trade secrets through the Confidentiality and Proprietary Information Agreement.  The employer’s argument that a noncompete agreement is necessary to prevent the disclosure of trade secrets to third party employers is simply abusive and overreaching.

Noncompete Agreements Violate Antitrust Law

I argue that noncompetition agreements violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act because every noncompete agreement is an unlawful contract to restrain trade.   Section 2 of the Sherman Act makes it illegal to “monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, …any part of the trade…”  (The Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C.§ 1)

You will never hear an argument in any litigation over the attempted enforcement of an employee noncompete agreement that the enforcing employer was seeking to restrain competition of its competitor businesses. Such a statement and action would constitute an unlawful antitrust action.  But we know in reality, that is exactly what employers are doing.  This conclusion is further supported by the recent statistics that nearly 49% of all employers use  noncompetition agreement for some or all of their employees, a doubling of the amount from 2014.  Noncompetition Agreements are a tool to kill competition, plain and simple.  Do not fall for the argument about protecting the company from rogue employees seeking to damage the employer. This accusation, albeit true in the rarest of circumstances, is specious given the employer made the employee sign an agreement to protect the employer’s trade secrets, the Confidentiality and Proprietary Information Agreement.

If you would like more information about this topic please contact our employment attorneys at Carey & Associates, P.C. at 203-255-4150 or email to info@capclaw.com.

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