A Hempstead laundry company will pay $400,000 to 10 workers who missed work while they were sick with COVID-19 in a settlement with the New York Attorney General’s Office.
FDR Services Corporation fired seven workers in April after they followed the state’s stay-at-home order for symptoms related to COVID-19. Three other employees were not fired but were denied sick pay when they returned to work.
The settlement was distributed to the 10 employees for sick pay and emotional distress. The company also rehired five employees and restored benefits.
"So many workers jeopardized their health and safety during the pandemic, and too many did so without proper protections from their employers," Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. "These individuals were unlawfully fired for doing the right thing — protecting themselves and our communities during an unprecedented public health crisis. Let this serve as notice to all employers across New York: We will take action against any employer that puts our workers in harm’s way and do whatever necessary to protect the safety and rights of our workers."
In a statement Wednesday night, the Hempstead company said: "FDR Services categorically denies the findings of the Attorney General, who has totally mispresented the facts of this case. … These employees were terminated because they did not show up for work nor did they properly call out sick. There were in fact many FDR employees who legitimately suffered from COVID and were granted and paid sick leave. … FDR will seek an immediate retraction of the press release from the Attorney General’s office."
The fired employees were mostly Spanish-speaking women who followed Nassau County Health Department guidance to quarantine for 14 days at home after experiencing high fevers and body aches.
The employees said their supervisors told them to stay home if they were sick and return to work once they were cleared with a doctor’s note. But when they returned to work they were fired and the company refused to pay them sick pay for the time they missed.
The employees said their managers told them they lost their jobs for failing to call in every day to alert FDR Services they were in quarantine or home sick.
Some of the employees had worked for the company for decades or more than 25 years before they were fired, according to the settlement. One female employee, who was pregnant at the time, said she followed the appropriate process to notify the company of her positive test, but was still fired. A 78-year-old man was fired in August after he took disability for symptoms from COVID-19 he first contracted in March.
"He became very ill and still felt sick up until July 2020 and needed an extended sick leave to recover from his disability. Instead, in early August 2020, he was fired," the settlement said.
The attorney general’s office began investigating the firings after the workers filed a complaint with their labor union, the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board.
State officials said the company violated state law by withholding sick pay and not providing any written notice of termination.
The attorney general's office said in a news release that New York’s COVID-19 sick pay law went into effect on March 18, 2020, and "required employers with 100 or more employees to provide at least 14 days of paid sick leave to any employee subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation issued by New York state, the department of health, the local board of health, or any government entity duly authorized to issue such order due to COVID-19." Additionally, the law requires employers to restore employment to those who took COVID-19 leave to their prior positions upon return to work with the same pay.
The settlement also protects the employees from future retaliation. The company must file a compliance report twice a year with the attorney general for the next three years.
"Due to the nature of their work — cleaning dirty and potentially COVID-19-infected linens from health care workers and patients — FDR Services’ employees were constantly exposing themselves to risk of infection," state officials said in announcing the settlement. "FDR Services Corp.’s actions endangered public health by instilling fear in other employees and workers throughout New York state who may have been reluctant to report COVID-19 symptoms or take sick leave because they were afraid of retaliation."
The attorney general’s office said anyone who feels they may have been targeted for retaliation for taking sick leave or other violations can email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 212-416-8700.