Labor & Employment Law Daily Engineer fired after requesting COVID-19 related remote work says employer wanted to make ‘example’ of him
Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Engineer fired after requesting COVID-19 related remote work says employer wanted to make ‘example’ of him

By Wayne D. Garris Jr., J.D.

The employer required him to return to work while the governor’s closing order was still in effect and rejected the employee’s request to work from home, while approving requests from other employees.

A Chinese-American engineer has filed a lawsuit in a federal district court in Massachusetts alleging that he was fired because he requested to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The employee, who was 55 years old, suffered with high blood pressure, and lived with his 81-year old mother, who has several health issues, alleged that his employer fired him to make an “example” out of him for any other employees who wanted to remain out of the office during the pandemic.

The employee began to work from home on March 16 after the Massachusetts governor closed non-essential businesses. However, on March 25, 2020, the employer’s general manager announced that all employees working from home had to report to the office for work on March 27, 2020. The general manager also stated that any employee who wanted to take a leave of absence or telecommute had to get approval from their manager, the general manager, and human resources. The employee submitted a request to continue to work from home on March 26, 2020, but the request was denied on March 28, 2020.

According to the complaint, also on March 28, 2020, another employee reported that their significant other and two roommates tested positive for COVID-19, but the company allegedly did not do anything to address this or take extra cleaning and disinfection steps.

Termination. On March 30, the company’s president emailed the employee telling him to report to work the next day and claimed that there were no positive cases of COVID-19 among the employees or their family members. The employee responded and reiterated his need to work from home due to his and his mother’s health conditions and because he had been successfully working from home. He also sought to take vacation until April 3; that request was never approved.

Later that day, the employer terminated the employee for job abandonment. The employee alleged that his manager told other employees that he “needed to make an example” of the employee and that employees could not use sick or vacation time due to COVID-19 concerns.

Everyone work from home. According to the complaint, by April 1, five employees had called out sick. The next day, it was reported that the wife of an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The following day, an employee tested positive for COVID-19. On April 3, 2020, the employer directed all of its employees to work from home until at least April 7, but even though the engineer had been fired only three days before, he claimed he was not contacted by his employer to reconsider his telecommuting request or to rescind his termination.

Lawsuit. The complaint alleges discrimination based on age, disability, and national origin as well as retaliation in violation of Massachusetts law. The engineer alleges his employer minimized the risks of COVID-19 to its employees and set a plan in motion to terminate the employee days before he was discharged. Further, the engineer alleges that the employer approved three other employees’ requests to work from home, despite denying his request.

The case is Lin v. CGIT Systems Inc. and was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District Massachusetts. The case is No. 1:20-CV-11051.

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