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April 20, 2020

Navigating the Workplace During COVID-19 including Whistleblower Rights

Owners of essential businesses have their hands full in adhering to all the new rules and regulations regarding workplace safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Los Angeles County essential businesses that are permitted to remain open during the crisis are required, as of April 15th, to provide their employees with cloth face coverings and may refuse admission or service to any individual who fails to wear face coverings.  Businesses are also asked to limit the number of people who enter their facility to ensure a minimum six-foot physical distance from others.  There may be a temptation to cut corners or to ignore the rules given the realities of salvaging the business. (The most current rules can be found at

However, essential businesses cannot ignore their obligations to provide workers with a safe working environment. Whistleblowers, that is, those who report workplace safety violations or other work-related violations of law, are bound to come forward and find protection if they have an objectively reasonable safety concern that is not being addressed. In Hayward, California, for example, a group of McDonalds employees demanded wage increases and more personal protective equipment from the corporation as they are considered essential workers during the Coronavirus pandemic. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group.)

It is illegal to retaliate against workers because they report unsafe and unhealthful working conditions during the Coronavirus pandemic. Acts of retaliation can include terminations, demotions, denials of overtime or promotion, or reductions in pay or hours. California has robust laws that protect whistleblowers including protection for those who report workplace safety violations as well as those who are perceived as likely to report a workplace safety violations.

To protect against unlawful disciplinary action, businesses are encouraged to work with their Human Resources Departments to ensure that workplace safety rules and regulations are in place, are being enforced, and that workers are permitted to voice concerns regarding their work environment.  While employers have the right to discipline an employee for a legitimate business reason unrelated to a safety complaint, navigating the workplace during this time can difficult and consultation with legal counsel about what actions can legally be taken may be helpful.

Anderson, McPharlin & Conners is mindful of the pressures businesses are facing during this time of crisis, and the need for guidance.  We are here to assist employers as they respond to the issues arising out of Covid-19.  Contact the Anderson, McPharlin & Conners’ Employment Department for more information.

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