COVID-19: Philly Enacts COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection

By: Laurie A. McCarthy, Esquire

[email protected]

Philadelphia is ahead of the curve – as the first city in the U.S. to prohibit retaliation against workers seeking to enforce COVID -19 public health protections. On June 26, 2020, after unanimous passage by Philadelphia City Council, the Mayor signed an ordinance that adds a new chapter to the Philadelphia Code entitled, “Employee Protections in Connection with COVID-19 Emergency Health Order.”

This new legislation is referred to as the Essential Workers Protection Act;  however; despite its name, the Act applies to all workers in Philadelphia, not just those employed by businesses considered to be “life-sustaining” under the Governor’s Executive Orders.

The Essential Workers Protection Act prohibits retaliation of any kind, including, but not limited to, reduction in pay, adverse change in working hours, termination, refusal to employ, harassment, or threats pertaining to an individual’s perceived immigration status against an employee who:

  • In good faith, discloses or demonstrates an intention to disclose the employer’s perceived violation of a local or state COVID-19 public health order that may significantly threaten the health or safety of employees or the public; or
  • Refuses to work in unsafe conditions, if the employee reasonably believes that the employer is operating in violation of a COVID -19 public health order and communicates to the employer that it is operating unsafely.

An employee may not refuse to work if:

  • The employer can provide the employee with a reasonable alternative work assignment that does not expose the employee to an unsafe condition; or
  • Upon inspection by the Philadelphia or Pennsylvania Department of Health, the business proves it has complied with all public health orders addressing safe workplace practices.

Employees may allege violations of the new law by filing a complaint with the City’s Department of Labor. Employees may bring a lawsuit in court only after they receive a “determination of reasonable cause to go forward” from the City’s Department of Labor.

Employees may seek civil penalties of $100 to $1,000 on behalf of the City of Philadelphia for each day in which a violation occurs, and, if the employee prevails, the court may award reinstatement, full restitution, and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

If you are an employer in the process of returning employees to the workforce, or an employee with concerns about your safety and your employer’s compliance with the applicable mandatory public health orders, you may wish to consult with experienced legal counsel.

The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP is a full-service law firm in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We strive to help people, businesses and institutions throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania solve legal problems – and even prevent legal problems before they occur.  To learn more about the full range of our specific practice areas, please visit or contact Laurie A. McCarthy, Esquire at 610-565-5700 or at [email protected]

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