Employees are suing over workplace COVID infections. Do they have a case?

A California court decided a widow and her daughters can sue her employer over workplace COVID exposure.

PALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 25, 2019: A man pushing a baby carriage pauses in front of a See's Candies shop in Palm Springs, California. Founded in Los Angeles in 1921, the company is now headquartered in San Francisco, California. Since 1972 the company has been owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Corporation. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

A See’s Candies shop in Palm Springs, California. (Source: Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Matilde Ek worked on a packing line at See’s Candies, a California-based confectionery that Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Corporation has owned since 1972.

Ek claims employees weren’t properly distanced, while visibly sick employees remained at work, per Law360. Nothing changed, even after employees and their union brought these issues to supervisors.

Ek caught the virus and passed it to her husband, who died. Now, Ek and her 3 daughters are suing See’s.

See’s wanted the suit dismissed…

… claiming they were only responsible for workers’ comp. But last week, a California appeals court disagreed, allowing the case to move forward.

Could this be a trend?

It already is. There are claims against Tyson Foods in Iowa, a mental health provider in Connecticut, and a Publix grocery store in Florida.

In fact, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has an entire database of similar lawsuits here.

Most are still pending, and some companies — including Tyson and Publix — have offered the same defense as See’s.

Whether they’ll move forward currently lies with state courts. The See’s decision is the 1st of its kind in California, per The San Francisco Chronicle. But:

  • Akin to the See’s case, a Florida court dismissed Publix’s request
  • But a Delaware court decided a plaintiff must file a workers’ comp claim first
  • And in Texas, a new law makes it harder for employees to sue over workplace COVID exposure

So what’s next? The legal landscape isn’t clear. But with 800k+ Americans dead from COVID, more lawsuits from surviving family members against workplaces will undoubtedly follow.

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