Employers are facing lawsuits from employees claiming they were told to keep working despite having the coronavirus.
As the number of COVID cases grew and the virus began to morph into different strands, medical facilities quickly realized they were understaffed and unable to handle the number of patients coming through their doors. Late last year and in early 2022, some facilities even began to tell their employees to avoid getting tested and report to work regardless of whether they were sick or not. Now, a group of emergency room (ER) physicians have filed a lawsuit alleging representatives for their employer, American Physician Partners, discouraged them from testing for COVID-19 and pressured them to work while ill.”
American Physician Partners (APP), based Brentwood, Tennessee, is responsible for staffing and managing the employment of ER physicians at more than 15 Houston Methodist clinics, including hospitals and emergency care centers. The lawsuit involves, specifically, eight physicians and APP with the ER doctors alleging that APP is “underpaid them and engaged in unethical practices, such as urging physicians with COVID-19 to work, as a way to boost revenue.”
APP’s protocol, “discourages testing and disregards physician, staff, and patient safety when a doctor does test positive for COVID-19,” the lawsuit further alleges, and APP “is putting profit over patient.”
APP has denied the claims, stating, “We advised them at that time that their concerns do not reflect the facts known to APP and otherwise appear to be based on misinformation. Thus, we are disappointed these physicians – who represent a very small minority of the physicians APP partners within the Houston area – have decided to move forward with this litigation. We remain open to continuing our dialogue with these physicians outside of the litigation, which, again, APP believes is without merit.”
In January 2022, The Los Angeles Times reported that California Jack in the Box employees were also being forced to report to work despite feeling sick or even testing positive for the coronavirus and their plight was a familiar one experienced by many employees nationwide.
The LA Times specifically recounts a conversation Maria Bernal, a Jack in the Box employee, had with her boss. When she felt she had the virus and a pharmacist confirmed her suspicions, her supervisor told her to keep working. “Don’t worry, everyone has it, you can still work. Just wear a mask and don’t tell anyone,” Bernal was told.
The chain responded to the allegations of employees being made to report to work sick, “Jack in the Box requires franchisees to comply with federal, state and local health and safety requirements with respect to COVID-19. We are actively investigating the concerns raised and reiterating current state and federal protocols with our franchisees to maintain and uphold the utmost health and well-being of our personnel and customers. While Jack in the Box franchisees set their own paid sick leave policies and COVID-19 protocols for their respective employees, as a brand, it is our priority to promote safety and clarity for all restaurant workers and guests alike.”
This phenomenon continues to occur across the U.S. even though the CDC recommends that “employers actively encourage sick employees to stay home.” In turn, workers exhibiting COVID symptoms are urged to notify their supervisors, isolate themselves from others, and follow coronavirus protocols, which includes staying at home unless they require medical care.