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McDonald’s Seeks Settlement With Workers Over Safety Claims

McDonald's filed a lawsuit against Zurich Insurance for breach of contract for refusing to pay for losses after the burger chain had to close 350 restaurants due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
By Simpluris Research
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Law360 reported that McDonald’s filed a motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit filed by its workers. Five employees and similarly situated members claimed that the fast-food giant did not implement the proper safety precautions needed to protect them during the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit stated that workers “are required, as a condition of their employment, to work in close proximity to other workers and customers, each of whom may carry the deadly virus even while showing no symptoms.” However, McDonald’s failed “to take important steps to contain the virus, such as providing adequate protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and safety training for employees, or enforcing safety protocols.” 

Crew and managers are the heart and soul of the restaurants in which they work, and their safety and well-being is a top priority that guides our decision making. The safety protocols in question in this lawsuit are already in place in Chicago and our 14,000 restaurants around the country.
- McDonald's Statement

As a result, the plaintiffs allege that McDonald’s is:

  1. A “public nuisance” because “workers not only risk exposure to the disease and the potential deadly health consequences that come with it, but also risk being responsible for spreading the disease to their family members.” 
  2. Negligent for not upholding its duty of care to its employees by not ensuring their safety or well-being.

Class members demanded that McDonald’s:

  • Provide appropriate protective gear
  • Prohibit the reuse of face coverings and gloves
  • Supply hand-sanitizer for customers and workers
  • Require employees and customers to wear face coverings
  • Track workers infected with COVID-19 and immediately inform co-workers to possible exposure
  • Update employees on the latest information on the coronavirus and provide best safety practices as disseminated by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Workplace Decision Tree

Workplace Decision Tree

Workplace Decision Tree

McDonald’s believes it can resolve these issues with the claimants. An Illinois state judge “opted not to hear oral arguments, and the parties instead held private discussions for roughly an hour in a separate video chat room. When they returned, the judge announced that the hearing would not proceed, as the parties believed they could work out the matter on their own.”

In a statement, McDonald’s said that it published a 59-page guide providing national standards for all of its restaurants and instituted safety practices “that include wellness checks, protective barriers, adhering to social distancing guidelines for customers and crew, using gloves and masks, increasing the frequency of handwashing and moving to contactless operations.” It added that personal protective equipment is in “ample supply for all restaurants,” with all restaurants requiring gloves, protective barriers, and masks for crew members.

In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, McDonald’s highlighted a potentially bigger issue of significantly increased litigation between employees and companies for improper safety protection amid the novel coronavirus if the courts decide to hear them. It argued that “The Court should defer to the primary jurisdiction and expertise of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) or the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). These agencies, not courts, are the experts on how to respond to COVID-19— including in the workplace specifically—and have the means and the resources to ensure uniform enforcement of rules and regulations regarding COVID-19.”

"Crew and managers are the heart and soul of the restaurants in which they work, and their safety and well-being is a top priority that guides our decision making. The safety protocols in question in this lawsuit are already in place in Chicago and our 14,000 restaurants around the country," McDonald's said. 

The lawsuit follows similar complaints by employees not only against McDonald’s but also other companies and restaurants which remained open during the initial COVID-19 outbreak. 

With the recent reopening of businesses, the CDC released new guidance for employers to ensure they are physically prepared for employees returning to work as they proceed beyond the pandemic. Law360 reported that Morgan Lewis partner Chai Feldblum, who previously served as a commissioner at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said, "The 'why' of these changes is most important. This will require a collective sense of responsibility. The employer needs to communicate that it's not trying to change peoples' minds but that it's expecting to change behavior in the workplace."

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