Denise Merna Dadika, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s Newark office, was quoted in the Star Tribune, in “United Hospital Faces Lawsuit Over Safety After Firing ER Nurse,” by Joe Carlson.

Following is an excerpt:

As the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up aggressively in Minnesota in May, Cliff Willmeng was fired from his job as an Emergency Department nurse at United Hospital in St. Paul.

His offense? Wearing hospital-issued scrubs on duty while caring for COVID-19 patients, and then defying the hospital policy against nurses wearing uniforms that the hospital has to launder.

Willmeng is suing the 546-bed hospital to get his job back, saying his actions were compelled by personal safety, and the policy behind his May 8 firing was nonsensical. He joins a burgeoning group of hospital workers nationally filing lawsuits in response to what they see as pressure from hospitals to unreasonably lower safety standards for workers on the front lines of pandemic care.

“We have been seeing claims filed across the country by employees, or former employees, alleging they were terminated for raising concerns about PPE [personal protective equipment], or staffing, patient safety issues, all in connection with COVID-19. And I’m sure we are going to see more cases,” said attorney Denise Dadika, co-chair of the health employment and labor group at law firm Epstein Becker Green. …

The scale of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, and the challenges posed by the gradually evolving scientific understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is what leads health care attorneys to expect more litigation from hospital employees.

Dadika, who represents employers in health care workplace lawsuits, said the increase in retaliation-related workplace claims at hospitals in recent months is understandable.

“Given the impact of the pandemic and the impact on individuals’ health, especially as people watch the news and with what we’ve been seeing, it’s not surprising,” she said. “As much as we continue to learn about the coronavirus, there is still also so much we don’t yet know, which is feeding into employees’ concerns.”

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