Major companies are telling workers to conceal COVID-19 cases, complaints allege

Employees at many large companies in the U.S. say their employers told them to keep quiet about known COVID-19 cases or workplace outbreaks, citing federal privacy laws, reports Bloomberg

Bloomberg reviewed workplace complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board and Occupational Safety and Health Administration over the last few months. The complaints allege that hundreds of employers have told employees not to share information about COVID-19 cases with other workers or have retaliated against them for disclosing this information.

Many employers have used employee privacy to justify the gag orders on COVID-19 cases, workers say. But federal laws such as HIPAA don't permit companies to silence employees about safety concerns.

Some experts say the move to conceal information about workplace COVID-19 cases could cause another wave of infections.

"In many places, workplace exposures are driving the pandemic," epidemiologist David Michaels, PhD, a professor at Washington, D.C.-based George Washington University who ran OSHA under former President Barack Obama, told Bloomberg. "To stop this pandemic, workers need to be listened to rather than silenced."

Companies cited in the complaints include Amazon, Target, McDonald's, Delta Airlines, Urban Outfitters and more. Amazon, Target and McDonald's disputed the allegations, while Delta told Bloomberg that it's never disciplined staff for sharing diagnoses. Urban Outfitters said it encourages workers to report concerns and said OSHA found no wrongdoing at the company. 

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