A carpet cleaning company employee said his employer forced him to work in an environment that exposed him to the virus. A Pennsylvania court issued a head-scratching decision.
The employee cared for his elderly grandfather. The grandfather was an at-risk person for severe COVID-19.
He told his employer he could only work at job sites where people followed social distancing guidelines and wore proper personal protective equipment.
But the employer assigned him to a location where he said people were not following social distancing guidelines and using the proper protective equipment.
He said the employer sent him home from the job. It then terminated his employment, he alleged.
He sued the employer for wrongful termination. He said his discharge violated state and county policies pertaining to the pandemic.
Next, the employer asked the court to dismiss the case. It argued that the employee worked on an at-will basis. It said the termination did not violate a clear mandate of public policy.
There is no public policy that says employers are responsible for the actions of the general public, it argued.
In other words, it argued that a public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine did not apply.
A trial court judge agreed.
The court sustained the employer’s preliminary objections. It dismissed the case with prejudice.
Employers should not interpret the ruling as a green light to expose their workers to COVID-19-related safety hazards. In fact, OSHA has made it clear that they can be punished for doing so. In a recent case, the agency cited an employer for exposing its employees to the disease.
This case involved a risk created by third parties. But if the allegations are true, the employer put the employee at risk by forcing him to work in unsafe conditions. It’s a decision that is difficult to reconcile with the notion that employers are responsible for providing a safe work environment.
Holtzman v. Cleaning Services Corp., No. GD21-2210 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. 10/22/21).