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Workplace Litigation Likely to Increase in 2021

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Workplace Litigation Likely to Increase in 2021

Written by™


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Workplace litigation in 2020 set a new record according to the 17th Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, with 1,548 workplace litigation rulings in the U.S. alone. In a year ruled by the COVID and sociopolitical upheaval, it makes sense that work-related lawsuits were at an all-time high. From wage and hour lawsuits to wrongful terminations and even claims of employer negligence in regard to COVID safety, workers and businesses alike faced a myriad of challenges.

If predictions for 2021 are accurate, these challenges are likely to continue. With multiple states considering COVID liability protection laws for businesses and employers and the shift from right to left in the federal government expected to create a push in workers’ rights agendas, workplace litigation is expected to continue at an all-time high, even in light of the last year’s numbers. When the economy is upset and people are in financial distress, some complaints that might otherwise have been delayed or shrugged off are often treated with greater importance, resulting in workers coming together to ensure they are treated fairly and that livelihoods are protected for themselves and their families.

Worker class action lawsuits became particularly prominent in 2020, and are likely to continue in that direction.

Class action lawsuits arise when there are too many victims or injured parties to be accounted for in a standard claim. In these situations, a group of victims are generally represented by one or two lead plaintiffs and a legal team. For a class action lawsuit to go to court, the class or group of people must first be certified by a judge; if a judge denies a class certification, the case cannot be tried. Class actions are particularly useful for large groups of past or current employees affected by the same harmful or unfair policy at work, or injured by the same business or product.

According to the 2020 Annual Workplace Class Action report, workers were the most successful at securing class certifications for litigation against employers to continue. The majority of worker class action lawsuits in 2020 consisted of wage and hour law violation allegations, including failure to pay overtime, workplace discrimination resulting in unequal pay, and other wage and hour disputes which applied to a large number of employees in each respective company.

COVID workplace negligence lawsuits also became prominent in 2020, and are expected to continue in 2021.

With the myriad of ever-changing requirements for individuals and businesses to follow regarding state and federal COVID safety measures, it stands to reason that in 2020 many workers filed suit against their employers for failing to comply with accepted protocol. Meat-packing and factory-type companies specifically faced multiple lawsuits from sick employees and their families, resulting in some cases in injunctive court-ordered relief, requiring employers to create and enforce a better COVID safety policy to protect workers and customers. Employer liability lawsuits for sick workers are expected to continue into 2021.

2021 may carry a new type of premises liability claim from customers against businesses over COVID precautions.

Florida, Indiana, and Arizona are just a few of the states pushing limited immunity bills to protect businesses from potential customer lawsuits over COVID safety concerns. These bills have resulted in mixed reactions, with proponents pointing out that COVID lawsuits against companies aren't particularly likely, but the bill will provide a measure of comfort and protection for businesses, encouraging them to safely reopen. Critics of these limited immunity bills are concerned that negligent companies will not be held accountable if their lacking safety measures result in a customer contracting the virus. Due to the difficulty of tracking when, where, and how the virus is contracted, these lawsuits have not become particularly prominent, but have left many business owners concerned about their potential.

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