Excerpted from JD Supra by Fisher Phillips

Claiming that her employer prohibited her from wearing a face covering at work despite federal recommendations and local orders that such coverings should be worn by employees, a Texas cook just sued the restaurant that she says took her off the schedule after she objected to the company policy – and scored a victory in the first round of this fast-moving litigation. As the nation gets back to business under COVID-19’s “new normal,” workplace lawsuits stemming from COVID-19-related safety concerns are also part of the new normal. How can your business avoid similar claims from your employees as you open back up?

The Allegations

Jane Doe, a woman who prefers to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation by her employer, alleges that the Hillstone Restaurant Group prohibited her from wearing a face covering while working as a cook at R + D Kitchen, a Dallas-area restaurant. She claims that the restaurant informed her in April that it would be reopening for limited dine-in services. However, she alleges her managers told her that, unless she agreed to work without a face covering, she would be taken off the schedule. According to her complaint, Hillstone’s COVID-19 policy for its Texas restaurants indicates that: “masks are not required to be worn by guests or staff members… If you are concerned about your well-being with respect to masks not being worn by staff or by other guests, we hope you will join us at a later date.”

When she refused to work without a mask, Doe alleges that the restaurant took away her hours. She filed suit in a Texas federal court, alleging she was forced to choose between earning money to feed her family and violating the law and/or potential unprotected exposure to COVID-19. Her claim cites face mask recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and an order by a Dallas County district court judge. She also cites to the state Labor Code and Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) standards in support of her claim that Hillstone Restaurant Group created a dangerous workplace for herself and other employees.
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