The coronavirus pandemic contributed to a spike in workplace lawsuits in 2020, and the number is not expected to increase until 2021, legal experts said.
At the same time, the upcoming Biden administration is expected to enforce workplace laws more aggressively than the Trump administration did.
Seyfarth law firm analyzed a record 1,548 class action rulings on a circuit-by-circuit and state-by-state basis to identify the major 2020 themes and emerging trends in lawsuits facing U.S. companies in 2021. identify.
"The impact of the pandemic was felt in every aspect of life and in every sector of the economy, creating a record number of class action statements in the workplace in 2020," said Seyfarth partner and author of the 17th annual report, Gerald L Maatman, Jr. "Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, this year we also saw settlement values rise for both prosecutors and government enforcement proceedings."
The Seyfarth report describes five major trends in corporate employment disputes in 2021:
COVID-19 Impact – The pandemic sparked more collective actions for all types of workplace problems, with a record 1,548 rulings in 2020. As companies return to the new normal, collective actions resulting from the pandemic will take place among employers in 2021 and beyond.
Change is the new normal – With a change from red to blue in the White House, the next four years is likely to see an expansion of workers' rights, tougher corporate regulations and aggressive enforcement of laws in the workplace. With that platform, employee and labor advocates are expected to ramp up their workplace class action litigation activities.
Increased values of settlements in class actions Counterintuitively, the number of settlements soared in the era of COVID and plaintiffs' attorneys and government enforcement actions brought in more money in 2020 than in 2019 – with settlements totaling more than $ 1.5 billion in 2020. Many thought the pandemic is the pace and magnitude of settlements in the new 'cash' approach to the business cycle. Instead, the workplace class action lawsuit defied those opportunities and showed that the prosecutors' bar turns filings filed into significant settlement numbers.
Lawsuits over government enforcement delayed – The Department of Labor, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have emphasized their litigation programs and have brought fewer claims than ever before (94 lawsuits in 2020 compared to 144 in 2019). Still, their settlement numbers soared (a record $ 535.4 million in 2020). Of the total amount collected, lawsuit recoveries increased from $ 39.1 million in 2019 to $ 106 million in 2020, the highest amount in 16 years. This approach can change significantly and reach higher levels under the Biden administration.
Pay and hourly disputes remain the sweet spot for plaintiffs' class action bar – Based on the sheer volume and statistics, workers scored the most success in obtaining certification of wage and hour classes and collective actions in 2020 compared to other areas of labor law – and at the highest level ever in the past two decades. Certification percentages of wage and hour promotions were awarded 84% and 16% refused. This state of affairs is expected to explode in 2021 with a friendlier Department of Labor making wage theft a priority and with minimum wage increases in 25 states by 2021.
Source: Seyfarth Shaw LLP
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