COVID-19 UPDATE from Bellas & Wachowski

Articles Posted in Employment law

D07714B9-62C2-4CD4-9E64-620ACBE27095-300x251How concerned should small businesses be about wrongful discharge lawsuits from plaintiffs terminated after alleging publicly that their employer did not follow health and safety guidelines to combat the spread of COVID-19?

The first clues may emerge from one of the first employment lawsuits related to the pandemic, filed in late May in Dallas County, Iowa. The plaintiff is a former county jail employee who called a hotline set up by the Department of Corrections after a co-worker who tested positive for COVID-19 was allowed to resume work due to being asymptomatic.

The sheriff’s office ultimately decided that the infected employee would not return, but the sheriff allegedly grew furious after hearing of the hotline call, according to the lawsuit, which says he viewed the plaintiff as disloyal and disrespectful of the chain of command.

Chicago Business Lawyer George Bellas answers questions for business owners.

CoronaVirus FAQs

Business owners are anxious to reopen their doors and revive their sales.  But there are concerns that the proper precautions be taken to protect their employees and customers, at a time when no treatment or vaccine for COVID-19 appears imminent.

As governors and mayors begin to ease restrictions on businesses, previously shuttered retailers, restaurants and others have another concern that could hold them back from reopening just as surely: whether and to what extent they can be held legally liable for employees or customers who contract coronavirus.

By Jillian Tattersall, Chicago Employment Lawyer & Guest Blogger

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) was created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020. The United States Department of Labor has provided the following useful succinct summary of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance:

Jillian Tattersall, Chicago Employment Lawyer Jillian Tattersall explains unemployment benefits under the CARES Act

Unemployment Benefits under CARES Act

Did someone say force majeure?

Force Majeure Clauses

COVID-19 Pandemic and Force Majeure clauses

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, force majeure is defined as “An event or effect that can be neither anticipated nor controlled.”   It is generally viewed as an unexpected event that prevents someone from doing or completing something that he or she had agreed to do.  The term is usually applied to acts of God (such as floods and hurricanes), riots, strikes and wars.  It is unclear, however, if the term includes an epidemic, such as COVID-19.   That legal term for unforeseen circumstances resulting in non-fulfillment of a contract is likely to be invoked widely this spring and summer as businesses are unable to make good on commitments due to the corona virus crisis.

As Harvey Weinstein rape trial moves forward, has your Chicago area business kept up with the increased awareness of sexual harassment and moved forward with adequate policy and cultural safeguards to ensure that you’re not the next target of the #MeToo movement?

George Bellas Business Attorney

#MeToo Movement is changing business environment protections.  

A survey conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, in conjunction with the software company SAP, found that one-third of U.S. workers and 38% of supervisors say they have changed their office behavior as a result of #MeToo.

Help with Business Law Issues

Protecting Chicago Area Business Owners.

The threshold for white-collar employees to be classifiable as “exempt” rose about 50% to $684 per week (about $35,568 per year) on January 1, 2020. Employers will need to make adjustments to ensure they’re compliant with this updated rule, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, announced on September 24 by the U.S. Department of Labor.  By “exempt” I am referring to employees who do not qualify for overtime pay.

The Illinois Freedom to Work Act, which prevents non-governmental employers from requiring that low-wage employees enter into non-compete agreements, has begun to impact case law in the past three years since it was enacted. Employers would be wise to take note.

Help with Business Law Issues

Chicago Business Lawyers

The act, which defines “low-wage employees” as those earning the greater of $13 per hour, or the federal, state or local minimum wage, pushes back against employers who insert such agreements into new employee packets as a matter of course.

Guns in Your Place of Business?

Can a business ban guns from the business and workplace?

If a customer walked into your retail business or professional office carrying a gun, would you be comfortable with that, or would it feel a little too much like the O.K. Corral? What if they were carrying their weapon openly?

Businesses in Oklahoma (postal abbreviation: OK) have had a new reason to ask themselves those questions since November 1, when a change in state law enabled most Oklahoma residents to carry firearms without a license. That follows a 2012 law that gave licensed firearms carriers the ability to open-carry weapons.   Most businesses in the state do not seem to have changed their policies, according to the Oklahoma Retail Merchants Association, which has more than 300 members including both mom-and-pop Main Street businesses and national chains. While some have been considering the question, most continue to welcome gun-toting patrons.

Non-competition agreements (“non-competes”) have long been viewed as viable means for Chicago area business owners to prohibit former employees from taking confidential information and using it to unfairly compete against the business.   Non-competes are actually prohibited in some states, but not Illinois.

Illinois allows the use of non-competes with some limitations.  Illinois employers are allowed to use non-competes provided they reasonably protect the employer’s legitimate business interests.  What this means has been left to the courts, and there has been a steady erosion of the effectiveness of non-competes by limiting the scope of those agreements.

Illinois has passed several laws recently which limit the effectiveness of employee non-competes and which should be of concern to Chicago area business owners:

New Employment Issues

Employment Discrimination issues explained by George Bellas Chicago Business Lawyer

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all other places that are open to the general public.[1]   When it comes to employment, the ADA provides that employers covered by the statute may not discriminate against “qualified individuals” with a disability with respect to employment matters.[2]  The ADA defines such individuals as applicants or employees who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job.[3]    Thus, the most contested issue becomes the question of whether or not the employee has a disability, as that term is defined by the Act.

One type of claimed disability that is increasingly the subject of litigation is obesity.  Although courts initially were reluctant to recognize obesity as a qualifying disability for purposes of the ADA protections, courts are increasingly willing to consider obesity as a disability giving plaintiffs status to raise ADA claims.