McDonald’s Chicago employees and their families have filed a class-action lawsuit against the fast-food restaurant chain.
However, the lawsuit does not seek compensation for employees who fell ill with COVID-19. Rather, it seeks to force McDonald’s compliance with CDC health guidelines, such as offering face masks. The fact is, McDonald’s employees around the country have demanded safety gear.
Class-action Against McDonald’s
“The damage done by deficient safety practices is not confined to the inside of a restaurant but rather has broader public health consequences,” said the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also documents that the company’s Chicago workers filed, at a minimum, four complaints with OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration). However, OSHA never responded by inspecting the worksites.
Similar to an April lawsuit filed against a meatpacking plant, the McDonald’s suit targets the company as a public nuisance. Usually, workplace safety is something the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the authority to investigate and possibly issue citations. However, by placing the focus on community health, the lawsuit is an attempt to move the complaint outside of OSHA’s jurisdiction and into the court.
McDonald’s Response to the Accusations
McDonald’s responded by saying the allegations are inaccurate. Furthermore, the corporate headquarters issued a 59-page guidebook to all restaurants outlining how to protect both staff and customers. Finally, early in May, the company reported it would make changes at all of its locations across the US before reopening.
The nationwide changes McDonald’s has made included closing some tables to follow social distancing guidelines, increased cleaning, protective barriers, requiring employees to wear gloves and masks, and offering masks to customers in places where they are required. McDonald’s has also modified it’s self-serve beverage procedures. These new procedures also include employee wellness checks, social distancing for both crew and customers, and increased handwashing. Sadly, McDonald’s also plans to keep the children’s Play Places closed.
“These changes will create as a set of nationwide standards for operating across all 14,000 McDonald’s locations in the US. All restaurants must follow these standards, as well as state and local laws, before reopening their dining rooms,” said Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA.
Workers Must Prove McDonald’s Created an Unsafe Workplace
To win this lawsuit, the plaintiffs need to prove not only did McDonald’s created an unsafe workplace but that it posed a threat to the community by spreading the coronavirus. The plaintiffs must prove that McDonald’s interfered with the community’s health. Unlike an ordinary lawsuit, a lawsuit like this generally does not require proof that the defendant directly harmed anyone.
The Risk of Abusive Lawsuits
The Institute for Legal Reform, which is affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has warned the coronavirus pandemic could unleash an unprecedented number of “abusive” lawsuits. In fact, the Institute directly pointed to the McDonald’s public nuisance lawsuit as a prime example.
The Chicago lawsuit is not the only one the pandemic has spawned against the fast-food giant; the company’s employees in Los Angeles, Monterey Park, and San Jose, California have also filed a similar complaint. Like the Chicago case, the Californians filed their complaint after they claimed CAL/OSHA failed to investigate the worker’s concerns that McDonald’s handling of issues related to the pandemic placed workers in “imminent danger.”
The complaint has been filed with the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency as well as CAL/OSHA. McDonald’s has 33 days to correct the alleged violations. If the company fails to comply, the workers or the state of California could sue McDonald’s for each and every violation allegedly committed against each worker. The legal notices, have been filed under California’s Private Attorneys General Act, and go into details about an alleged pattern of failure to protect McDonald’s workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.