Meat packing plants across the nation have been in the news throughout the spring for the challenges they’ve faced in staying operational while also keeping their employees safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these plants, Smithfield Foods in Milan, Missouri, is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by an employee who alleges the company was negligent in exposing its employees to the COVID-19 virus.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post, the Smithfield worker (listed as Jane Doe in the legal complaint) says she is taking legal action anonymously because she is scared of retaliation if her identity is revealed.
Smithfield closed three plants in the spring after workers tested positive for the virus, but Jane Doe alleges the company “doesn’t seem to care” about the risk of exposure to the virus at the facilities it keeps open. She claims there were at least eight workers at her plant that she knows of who stayed home due to coronavirus symptoms, despite the “devastating” nature of losing a day’s wages, and that the company was still disciplining workers who missed shifts despite the pandemic scenario.
She claims maintaining the proper distance between people is nearly impossible in the facility, as workers are generally shoulder-to-shoulder for hours at a time with only a couple short breaks and a lunch each day. The workers also “wear the same gloves and masks all day unless they rip,” and “don’t have time to wash [their] hands regularly.” There continues to be crowding in common areas, and most people were only wearing masks while on the line, and not in the other common areas around the plant. Smithfield did not provide enough protective equipment or adjust working conditions to be safe during the pandemic.
This is just one example of a lawsuit filed over pandemic working conditions. It is on employers to adjust their operations to keep all employees safe—this should be paramount during a pandemic.
For more information about employer responsibility for COVID-19 protections, contact an experienced whistleblower and employment lawyer at Kardell Law Group.