The manager claimed she was dismissed for supposedly ‘exaggerating the ‘China virus’”
The HR manager of a German manufacturing group operating in the US was allegedly dismissed after sending an email alert about COVID-19 and recommending two employees go into isolation.
In a lawsuit filed before a district court in New Hampshire, the HR manager claimed her former employer fired her for supposedly “exaggerating the ‘China virus’” when she provided company leaders with guidance on the outbreak back in January.
The HR manager said she issued the health and safety alert after two managers consulted her about employees who were set to return to the US from China and Malaysia.
Read more: Is COVID-19 a workplace injury?
At the time, the coronavirus had already begun spreading beyond borders. On Jan. 23, China placed key cities such as Wuhan – which was known as the epicentre of the outbreak – under lockdown.
The complainant said she had reviewed the guidelines set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and sought professional medical guidance from a local clinic, before suggesting employees returning from overseas self-quarantine at home for a week.
But one of the company’s vice presidents was said to have accused the HR manager of “exaggerating the ‘China virus.’” The VP also allegedly claimed that he “did not trust” the complainant.
The HR manager said she was terminated for “performing acts that public policy would encourage”.
The complainant also said she aimed to “educate the defendant regarding COVID-19, to advocate adherence to DHHS and CDC recommendations, and to take action to protect employees from infection by insisting that employees returning from China and Malaysia stay home.”
In response to the lawsuit, the company said the complainant had been fired over her performance, and that the termination process was done for “legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons”.
Company officials were supposedly concerned about the complainant’s alleged relationship with an employee; lack of attention to detail; lack of engagement with staff; and “repeated exaggerations and misrepresentations in her communications,” according to court documents.
The VP who was mentioned in the case supposedly referred to a discussion he had with the complainant about the COVID-19 guidance weeks before she was terminated.
Court documents filed by the company showed the HR manager “initially claimed that everyone in the plant was very upset about the fact that (the two employees) were travelling in China and Malaysia with the coronavirus in China, and that she had to ‘calm everyone down,’ and eventually admitted there were only two employees who were concerned, whose names she could not recall’”.