Five employees sued in Illinois state court Tuesday claiming they are being forced to work “in close proximity” to potentially infected co-workers and customers, and that McDonald’s and its franchise restaurants “are failing to take important steps to contain the virus, such as providing adequate protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and safety training for employees, or enforcing safety protocols.”
McDonald’s managers have told workers to reuse gloves, accused employees of trying to steal gloves, and claimed that there’s no need to physically distance if they restrict contact with others to under 10 minutes, according to the lawsuit. The workers, who are seeking class-action status for their claims, say the company’s actions violate state nuisance and negligence laws.
McDonald’s said in a statement that it has updated nearly 50 safety procedures, including “wellness checks, protective barriers, adhering to social-distancing guidelines for customers and crew, using gloves and masks, increasing the frequency of hand washing and moving to contactless operations.”
Restaurants provide ample supplies of personal protection equipment, with more than 100 million masks being distributed to workers so far, according to the company. “Crew and managers are the heart and soul of the restaurants in which they work, and their safety and well-being is a top priority that guides our decision making,” McDonald’s said.
The lawsuit follows several complaints filed by Chicago-area McDonald’s workers with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA announced in April that it would generally try to deal with coronavirus-related complaints informally, by asking employers to investigate themselves, rather than sending in OSHA inspectors.
“The only way my coworkers found out I was sick, and they had possibly been exposed to Covid-19, was by reading my Facebook post,” Taynarvis Massey, a plaintiff who tested positive for the virus, said in an emailed statement.
The new lawsuit is backed by the Service Employees International Union’s “Fight For $15 and a Union” campaign, which has also supported litigation against McDonald’s on issues including workplace violence and sexual harassment. The company accused the union of spreading “misinformation” about working conditions.
On Tuesday, McDonald’s workers at three California stores also filed complaints with the state’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
(Updates with McDonald’s comment)
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