By Wayne D. Garris, Jr.
Lawsuits filed against Tyson regarding worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic included the disturbing allegation that managers were placing bets on which employees would contract COVID-19.
On December 16, 2020, Tyson Foods announced that it has terminated seven management employees who were accused of placing wagers on which of its employees would contract COVID-19 at the company’s Waterloo, Iowa, plant. The announcement comes almost one month after lawsuits were filed accusing the company of disregarding workers’ health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Betting pool. In November 2020, the family members and estates of four Tyson workers who reportedly died from COVID-19 complications filed suit against the company and Tyson executives and supervisors (see Labor and Employment Law Daily, “Tyson Foods faces lawsuits by families of workers who died of COVID-19 complications,” November 20, 2020).
Among the allegations of unsafe working conditions, the plaintiffs accused the plant manager of the Waterloo facility of organizing “a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many employees would test positive for COVID-19.”
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Tyson suspended the individuals accused of participating in the wagering and hired the law firm Covington & Burling LLP to conduct an investigation, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder.
Safety investments. In the wake of the lawsuit, Tyson announced new steps to combat the coronavirus among its workforce. On December 3, the company announced that it was investing $540 million to install walk-through temperature scanners, workstation dividers, and HEPA high-performance air filtration systems in its breakrooms. Tyson would implement a new COVID-19 testing strategy, including testing asymptomatic employees. The company also increased its medical professionals on staff to 600 to care for employees who became ill.
Chief Medical Officer. One week later, on December 10, Tyson announced a newly-created Chief Medical Officer position to primarily serve to help the company protect its workers from COVID-19. The company appointed Dr. Claudia Coplein, who will take over the role on January 4. In addition to her work on COVID-19, Dr. Coplein will oversee the launch of health clinics at seven Tyson plants as well as “expand and promote a culture of health, safety and wellness at Tyson.”
Wagering investigation. The announcement of the termination of seven management employees comes after Covington & Burlington completed its investigation of the Waterloo plant. “We value our people and expect everyone on the team, especially our leaders, to operate with integrity and care in everything we do,” said Tyson Foods President & CEO Dean Banks in a press release on the company’s website. “The behaviors exhibited by these individuals do not represent the Tyson core values, which is why we took immediate and appropriate action to get to the truth. Now that the investigation has concluded, we are taking action based on the findings.”
Companies: Tyson Foods, Inc.
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