Personal injury attorney anticipates increase in whistleblower lawsuits following pandemic

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A. Vince Colella, a civil rights and personal injury attorney and co-founder of Southfield-based law firm Moss & Colella, anticipates there will be an uptick in whistleblower lawsuits once the COVID-19 crisis begins to wane. He also expects the whistleblowers to present their case from a different perspective than traditional whistleblowers.

“Whistleblowers tend to blow the whistle for what they deem is the greater good,” Colella said. “They call out corporations for polluting public waterways with toxic waste or chemicals, or executives for playing fast and loose with numbers at the financial peril of employees or retirees. With COVID-19 whistle­blowers, I believe you will see more cases of perceived harm to the individual whistleblowers themselves.”

In Michigan, Colella points to employers who ignored Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders and, although not identified as essential businesses, forced their employees to work.

“The stories are starting to circulate about employees with limited means being forced to leave their homes and work in an environment without social distancing that significantly increases their chances of catching the virus,” Colella said. “One non-essential employer forced his staff to work on a Saturday and then refused to pay them. They can say no and lose their jobs, but they don’t have the clout to speak up against the employer directly now – and they can’t leave and find another job. That’s where I see the whistleblower trend going with this pandemic. When employees can’t follow the governor’s orders to stay home and stay safe, they get scared – and angry.”

The plight is not necessarily limited to low-wage employees. Colella knows a dental surgeon in the Pacific Northwest who was being forced to conduct surgery for his national dental chain employer even after dental offices had been forced by the state to close for non-emergency surgery.

“Ultimately, he defied the dental chain’s orders and, with his colleagues in other parts of the country, refused to report to work until it’s deemed safe to do so,” Colella said.

Still, Colella suspects that whistleblowers will generally hail from the ranks of low-wage workers for economic reasons.

 “We are likely to face a dire economic outlook for some period of time after the pandemic’s full force has subsided,” Colella said. “For many low-wage workers who can’t find a new job and were forced to work in unsafe conditions – whether or not they ultimately got the virus – they will see blowing the whistle on their employer as their only option.”



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