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McDonald’s Hit With Two Class-Action Suits Over COVID-19 Worker Safety

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A class-action lawsuit was filed by a group of five Chicago-area McDonald’s workers on Tuesday alleging the fast-food chain failed to adopt government safety guidelines on COVID-19, thereby endangering workers and their families. Nine plaintiffs, including four live-in family members of the workers, were named in the suit filed in Illinois state court against McDonald’s.

Reuters reported the lawsuit alleges McDonald’s “failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment including hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks” and “has not notified its staff when an employee has become infected with the new coronavirus.” The suit also alleges that unsafe practices such as being forced to work in close quarters with potentially asymptomatic carrier colleagues and customers, and having to reuse dirty masks or gloves (if any such protective equipment was provided at all) caused hazardous conditions and a “public nuisance” that could potentially endanger public health.

“Plaintiffs bring this case because, in the face of these severe risks, the steps defendants are taking to contain COVID-19 are plainly inadequate,” according to the complaint. “Defendants have a responsibility to their workers, customers, and the public to ensure that the restaurants do not become a hub for spread of the virus. Yet, at the stores where the worker plaintiffs are employed, McDonald’s has failed to take adequate steps in response to the pandemic [and] these stores are operating in disregard of expert recommendations and government guidance on how to best protect workers and customers from spread of the disease.”

The complaint goes on to allege, “The damage done by inadequate safety practices is not confined to the walls of a restaurant, but instead has broader public health consequences for the Chicago community.”

Chicago-based McDonald’s franchises reportedly issued an emailed statement calling the allegations “inaccurate characterizations…which do not represent the actual realities in our 14,000 restaurants around the country.” The class-action lawsuit names four Chicago McDonald’s restaurants, which include both franchise and corporate-owned locations, and cites numerous examples of “dangerous conditions” that allegedly risked spreading the disease to customers, co-workers, and family members.

The McDonald’s Corporation issued a statement declaring, “PPE is in ample supply for all restaurants, as masks, gloves and protective barriers are required at all restaurants; to-date, more than 100 million masks have been distributed to crew.” The statement also referenced the company having updating nearly 50 safety procedures including “wellness checks, protective barriers, adhering to social-distancing guidelines for customers and crew, using gloves and masks, increasing the frequency of hand washing, and moving to contactless operations.”

The suit seeks an injunction requiring McDonald’s to supply adequate protective equipment and hand sanitizer to workers, enforce face mask guidelines for employees and customers, and stop any policies that could encourage workers to use their protective equipment improperly or unsafely. Additionally, the injunction seeks to force McDonald’s to continuously monitor employees for infections and inform co-workers “immediately” of any potential exposure to COVID-19.

In addition to the class-action suit filed in Illinois, McDonald’s workers at three California locations filed administrative actions against the company with the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency and the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Workers there are accusing McDonald’s of failing to provide adequate protection during the COVID-19 pandemic and subjecting them to unnecessary risk.

In a statement issued by plaintiff lawyer, Lauren Teukolsky, California workers are reportedly “scared and angry” as their health concerns are insufficiently addressed and their workplaces are mismanaged.

“McDonald’s is still not protecting them [workers] and Cal/OSHA is missing in action, even though these workers filed formal Cal/OSHA complaints more than a month ago,” Teukolsky said. “If the need to protect workers and customers from the scourge of COVID-19 isn’t motivation enough for McDonald’s, maybe the threat of massive civil penalties through legal action will be. McDonald’s workers should not have to choose between their lives and a paycheck.”

Two of the locations named in the California actions are located in Los Angeles, which has reported nearly half of the state’s coronavirus cases. The complaints come as L.A. County is reportedly targeting July 4th as a benchmark date to reopen bars and restaurants.