May 15, 2021

Volume XI, Number 135


May 14, 2021

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May 13, 2021

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COVID-19 Related Workplace Deaths: Preparedness and Implementation is Key

Now in its 23rd week, the Barnes & Thornburg Wage and Hour Practice Group’s COVID-19 related workplace litigation tracker has now analyzed 423 complaints filed across the United States, in 12 different categories. This week’s spotlight is on a familiar category of COVID-19 related workplace complaints that was previously reported on: deaths caused by COVID-19 infections allegedly connected to the workplace. 

This week’s update to the tracker includes one such case where the plaintiff, a widow, alleges that her husband’s employer failed to implement safety policies and failed to provide PPE and safety equipment necessary to protect against the virus. The allegations in this case demonstrate the importance of employers not only communicating a plan of action to mitigate the dangers to the workforce but also implementing those measures necessary to protect the workforce. 

In Yaquelina Rivera v. Poly-America L.P., et al., the plaintiff is the widow of a former operator employed at a chemical manufacturing company. She alleges negligence and gross negligence under Texas law. The plaintiff claims that her husband’s employer failed to provide personal protective or safety equipment, such as facemasks, hand sanitizers, or filters, and failed to implement safety policies, such as social distancing. The plaintiff alleges that her husband contracted COVID-19 while at work because his employer failed to take steps to protect its employees. Her husband was later hospitalized and died from COVID-19. In response, the plaintiff brought a wrongful death suit on her behalf and on her children’s behalf. 

As we have previously observed, for the foreseeable future we anticipate more litigation pertaining to an employer’s safety-related response to COVID-19, more illness among an employee population, and more allegations that illness and death were the result of the employer’s response (or lack thereof) to COVID-19. Although public health guidance at the local, state, and federal levels is fluid, employers should continue to monitor and adapt their plans to appropriately mitigate risks to the workforce. When in doubt, seek guidance from your labor and employment attorney. 

© 2021 BARNES & THORNBURG LLPNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 276



About this Author

Peter J. Wozniak Barnes Thornburg Chicago  Labor Employment

Pete Wozniak is a vigorous advocate who strives to help his clients navigate issues that can be fraught with challenges as painlessly and efficiently as possible. He is a candid and personable counselor, offering his clients direct advice by leveraging his deep experience performing a broad range of outcome critical functions for complex labor and employment matters.

Pete represents clients across a number of industries, including transportation and logistics, restaurants, retail, manufacturing, and temporary staffing. Handling a number of high profile matters, he identifies the...

Mark Wallin, Attorney, BT, Chicago, Labor Employment
Of Counsel

In order to provide the best counsel, Mark Wallin believes it is his role to understand his clients’ business needs so he can help them determine what resolution will provide the most benefit. His keen ability to understand his clients’ practical concerns allows him to advise on the best path to successfully resolve issues – whether through traditional litigation or negotiated resolution.

In the course of his practice, Mark has focused on providing the highest-level of service to his clients and building long-term relationships. Specifically, he defends employers in a wide range of...

Taylor Hunter, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Indianapolis, Labor and Employment Attorney
Staff Attorney

Taylor L. Hunter is a staff attorney and member of the Labor and Employment Law Department in Barnes & Thornburg’s Indianapolis office. Ms. Hunter focuses her practice in the area of education law with an emphasis on employment and student disability matters.

Before joining Barnes & Thornburg as a staff attorney, Ms. Hunter gained experience as an associate with an Indianapolis-based law firm where she assisted in the areas of family law, traffic issues, small claims, criminal law and litigation.