McDonald’s Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over COVID-19 Workplace Safety Concerns

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

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— Updated on June 25, 2020

McDonald’s Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over COVID-19 Workplace Safety Concerns

McDonald’s faces a class action lawsuit and an administrative action from workers who claim that McDonald’s failed to provide adequate notification, social distancing, or personal protective equipment (PPE) in the face of the novel coronavirus.

Chicago: Concerns About Failures to Warn or Protect

One class action lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, claims that McDonald’s did not notify its workers in four different Chicago locations even after their co-workers tested positive for COVID-19. The lawsuit also alleges that the company failed to create proper means for social distancing and did not provide sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to its staff, including masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

For example, one plaintiff stated that although she provided a copy of her positive COVID-19 test results to her manager, McDonald’s did not notify her co-workers that they had been exposed to the virus. Rather, they learned this information by reading the plaintiff’s personal Facebook updates.

Plaintiffs in the Chicago case also described being given only one mask to wear across multiple days, or being told to “cover their mouths when they sneeze” rather than being given masks at all.

McDonald’s disputes these claims. The restaurant chain says it has implemented nearly 50 new processes in its locations since February 2020, including social distancing and increased handwashing. The company also says that PPE is in “ample supply” at its various locations.

The Cook County suit seeks an injunction requiring McDonald’s to supply PPE, enforce a face mask requirement for both workers and customers, and improve its monitoring and notification procedures for workers’ health.

California: Claims Filed With the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health

Workers at three different McDonald’s locations in California also filed administrative actions with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), citing allegedly unsafe conditions in the restaurants where they work.

The cited concerns mirror those in the Cook County lawsuit. They include claims that McDonald’s is not providing adequate soap, hand sanitizer, masks or gloves. Workers have also expressed concerns that they won’t receive the paid time off they’ll need if exposure requires them to self-quarantine or if they start to have symptoms.

In late May 2020, McDonald’s workers in California also filed complaints under the state’s Private Attorney Generals Act (PAGA), alleging that Cal/OSHA’s failures to address the issues at McDonald’s locations had escalated to an instance of “imminent danger” now threatening workers.

The PAGA lawsuit triggers a thirty-day countdown for the restaurant chain to address violations of the California Labor Code. Once this thirty-day clock has run out, either the workers or the state of California can sue for compliance.

In addition to demanding that their safety concerns be addressed, workers at various McDonald’s locations in California have also gone on strike, walking off the job over their insistence on better PPE, safety procedures, and notification procedures. About 700 fast food workers have gone on strike nationwide, many of whom work at McDonald’s locations.

Continuing Challenges in the McDonald’s Cases

The cases filed against McDonald’s and the claims filed with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health all rely on a strategy that has been used in the past to shut down businesses like strip clubs, according to one Reuters article.

The lawsuits filed do not ask for money damages for the plaintiffs or similarly-situated workers. Rather, they seek to have McDonald’s locations labeled a “public nuisance” for the increased risk of infection they pose with their alleged lack of PPE or safety practices. These lawsuits seek to give courts a way to step in, rather than requiring workers to deal solely with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or state occupational safety departments.

Several expert witnesses are likely to participate in the McDonald’s claims if they go to trial. Experts with a background in epidemiology, community or public health, and restaurant health and safety codes may be highly sought after in these cases. Their perspective may aid fact-finders in understanding key details essential to the case.

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