COVID-19 has devastated countless individuals and businesses, both economically and personally. Local, state, and federal agencies have hastily authorized economic relief programs to help ease the impact on families, communities, and the national economy. To address community needs, many agencies quickly distributed funds with minimal oversight. To prevent fraud and misuse of federal benefits, members of Congress have introduced proposed legislation called the Coronavirus Oversight and Recovery Ethics (CORE) Act, which also includes critical whistleblower protection provisions.
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Tammy Marzigliano and Brittany Arnold
Guidance Without Protection: Restrictive Federal Court Ruling Limits Rights of New York Whistleblowers Who Report Unsafe COVID-19 Work Conditions
In an unfortunate decision for New Yorkers concerned about COVID-19 in the workplace, a federal judge recently ruled that the state’s whistleblower protection law does not apply to workers who complain about their employer’s failure to follow public health guidance.
The narrow reading of New York Labor Law Section 740 by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in HC2, Inc. v. Delaney could have a chilling effect on workers who have legitimate COVID-related concerns about returning to the workplace while the virus remains a threat to their health.
The COVID-19 crisis has shed light on the many everyday heroes that have helped patients, neighbors, and communities survive the coronavirus. In the shadows, however, lurk opportunists taking advantage of the outbreak – including healthcare providers and medical suppliers tasked with saving lives. Just like first responders, doctors, and nurses, whistleblowers who call out fraudulent billing practices during the pandemic are heroic, too.
Workplace safety is more critical than ever in the coronavirus era. As states and cities across the country have ordered the closure and now reopening of non-essential businesses, safety measures that help prevent the spread of the virus are crucial for mitigating the risks to workers.
When employers purposely or negligently violate the rules, employee whistleblowers are often the best hope for bringing violations to the attention of government authorities. To encourage people to come forward, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (the “OSH Act” or the “Act”) protects employees who observe and report unsafe conditions in their workplaces, whether related to the coronavirus pandemic or not.