by Jamie Herzlich, Newsday
The pandemic has produced a record number of workplace-related class-action rulings, according to a new report from a national law firm.
The pandemic spiked more class action lawsuits for all types of workplace issues, with 1,548 rulings in 2020, according to the Chicago-based Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
Of those rulings, the metropolitan area, which includes New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, had the most wage and hour lawsuits — which included claims that businesses failed to pay minimum wage or overtime for compensable work hours — than any other part of the country, totaling 40 cases processed and certified out of 113 filed nationwide.
“Metro-NY was the absolute epicenter of wage-and-hour class-action litigation,” says Gerald Maatman, Jr., a partner at Seyfarth Shaw and author of its Workplace Class Action Litigation Report. (Long Island-specific data was unavailable.)
Termination, which was the top issue according to the report, was cited in 690 cases.
Maatman says, in general, the rise in litigation likely stems from the fact that whenever there is a significant disruption in the economy and job loss there tends to be increased litigation that follows.
Among issues prompting lawsuits in the wage and hour space in the metro area were complaints from employees alleging they are working more than 40 hours and not getting paid the correct amount of overtime and those claiming they were misclassified as independent contractors and the work they performed entitled them to overtime, Maatman says.
He expects these kinds of claims to continue into 2021 since employees don’t necessarily file litigation the day they’re laid off, noting there’s usually some lag time.
Also noteworthy, the report says, is that “with a change from red to blue in the White House, a likely expansion of workers’ rights, increased regulation of businesses, and aggressive enforcement of workplace laws is apt to take place in the next four years.”
Still, wage and hour litigation will remain prevalent in 2021, due to “a more friendly DOL that makes wage theft its enforcement priority and with minimum wage increases in 25 states in 2021,” Seyfarth Shaw says.
Subsequently, it pays to look at how you’re classifying employees, says Yale Pollack, a partner at Ronkonkoma-based Campolo, Middleton & McCormick LLP.
“You may want to do an updated analysis of whether or not employees should be classified as exempt or nonexempt,” he says.
Employers should be mindful of potential claims that could arise from mandating employees to get the COVID vaccine, says Pollack, noting that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance that employers should be aware of.
Some employees with disabilities or religious beliefs may be eligible for a reasonable accommodation, he says, adding, “this is going to be a potential new wave of litigation.”