Attorney General James Protects Long Island Workers Unlawfully Fired During COVID-19 Pandemic
AG James Recovers $400,000 for Laundry Workers Unlawfully Fired
by FDR Services, Reinstates Those Employees to the Company
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced an agreement with FDR Services Corporation of New York (FDR Services Corp) — an industrial laundry facility in Hempstead, Long Island — that holds the company accountable for unlawfully firing seven workers and denying paid sick leave to others who took sick leave when they were ill with COVID-19. An investigation into FDR Services Corp found that the company violated several state and federal laws when it fired seven employees — most of whom are from immigrant communities — and failed to provide sick pay to those individuals, as well as to three others. This agreement stipulates the payment of $400,000 from FDR Services Corp, which will be distributed among the 10 affected workers for sick leave pay compensation and emotional distress. Additionally, FDR Services Corp will reinstate five employees who wish to return to the company and provide them with the benefits they received prior to their unlawful discharge.
“So many workers jeopardized their health and safety during the pandemic, and too many did so without proper protections from their employers,” said Attorney General James. “These individuals were unlawfully fired for doing the right thing — protecting themselves and our communities during an unprecedented public health crisis. Let this serve as notice to all employers across New York: We will take action against any employer that puts our workers in harm’s way and do whatever is necessary to protect the safety and rights of our workers.”
“When I was an employee of FDR Laundry, I contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic, and went through all the appropriate channels to notify the company of my positive test,” said Roxanna Moreno, a former FDR employee in the Residents Clothing Department. “When I returned from quarantine, the company fired me. At the time, I was pregnant, and I suffered many complications during my pregnancy due to the stress of unemployment, and the mistreatment by FDR Laundry. My co-workers and I should have never been fired for taking precautions during the pandemic, and I thank the Office of the Attorney General and our union for working to give us justice.”
“I was fired from my position at FDR Laundry following my COVID-19 diagnosis in March 2020,” said Blanca Landaverde, a former FDR employee in the Packing Department. “As a single mother, I had no means to provide for my children during that difficult time. I am proud to stand with fellow FDR Laundry workers in support of fair treatment in the workplace, especially during this pandemic. No family should go through what I went through, and I thank the attorney general and our union for standing with us in this fight.”
“We applaud New York Attorney General Letitia James for helping workers at FDR Services get their jobs reinstated, along with back pay they’re owed and paid sick leave,” said Megan Chambers, co-manager of the Laundry, Distribution, and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU, the labor union representing FDR Services’ employees. “Today’s announcement is a major victory, not just for our members, but for workers’ rights, economic justice, and public health in New York. The employees of FDR Services are essential laundry workers who have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, cleaning and delivering linens to hospitals and nursing homes on Long Island and throughout the wider New York metro area. During the darkest days of the pandemic, FDR’s workers performed vital jobs to protect the health and safety of countless New Yorkers. Instead of rewarding such dedication, FDR illegally fired its employees for staying home with COVID-19 symptoms. The company must now right these wrongs and treat all of its workers with dignity and respect.”
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) began its investigation in the spring of 2020 following a complaint filed by the Laundry, Distribution, and Food Service Joint Board of the Workers United Union, which represents the employees who work for FDR Services Corp. The company's status as an essential business allowed for FDR Services Corp to remain operational during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the nature of their work — cleaning dirty and potentially COVID-19-infected linens from health care workers and patients — FDR Services’ employees were constantly exposing themselves to risk of infection.
Seven workers from FDR Services Corp stayed home when they began experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 and obtained orders of quarantine from their local health departments. However, when the employees returned to work after completing their periods of quarantine, they were promptly fired, and the company refused to pay them for the period they were out sick. Three other employees who took COVID-19 sick leave were also denied the mandated sick pay, although they were not fired. Additionally, FDR Services Corp failed to provide the individuals with any written notice of termination, as is required by New York’s Labor Law.
New York’s COVID-19 sick pay law went into effect on March 18, 2020, and required employers with 100 or more employees to provide at least 14 days of paid sick leave to any employee subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation issued by New York state, the state Department of Health, a local board of health, or any government entity duly authorized to issue such an order due to COVID-19. Additionally, New York’s COVID-19 sick pay law requires employers to restore any employees who have taken COVID-19 leave to their prior positions upon return to work with the same pay, and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for taking sick leave.
FDR Services Corp’s actions endangered public health by instilling fear in other employees and workers throughout New York state who may have been reluctant to report COVID-19 symptoms or take sick leave because they were afraid of retaliation. The New York Legislature passed the COVID-19 sick leave law precisely to provide critical relief to workers and curb the spread of COVID-19. FDR Services Corp’s unlawful actions undermined the state’s efforts to contain the spread of this virus, and they are now being held accountable.
The agreement with FDR Services Corp requires the company to pay $400,000 that will be distributed to current and former employees. Every worker who was fired will receive COVID-19 sick pay and damages for emotional distress. Additionally, five of the fired workers who wish to return to the company will be reinstated to their original positions, or will be offered new positions that are agreed upon by all parties. The three workers who were not fired will receive compensation for the COVID-19 sick pay owed. FDR Services Corp is also responsible for submitting a report to the OAG twice a year for the next three years identifying any sick leave complaints and ensuring compliance with the agreement.
“No one should lose their job for following a critical public health order. These workers did the right thing,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. “I thank Attorney General James and her office for delivering justice through this settlement.”
“This agreement should serve as a notice to all employers in New York state that we will always prioritize the rights of workers,” said State Senator Kevin Thomas. “When an employer fails to compensate their workers in accordance with the law, the Office of the Attorney General will hold them accountable and ensure that employees receive their hard-earned wages. I thank Attorney General James for her continued commitment to protecting the rights of workers across our state.”
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we moved quickly to protect workers from this exact scenario,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos. “I’m grateful to the attorney general and the Laundry, Distribution, and Food Service Joint Board of the Workers United Union for their decisive action in the interest of these workers.”
“During the earliest and most frightening days of the COVID-19 pandemic, essential employees, like the workers at FDR Services Corp., placed themselves in harm’s way to reinforce key pillars of our society,” said Nassau County Legislator Siela A. Bynoe. “I commend each of these courageous individuals for standing tall and confronting this egregious injustice, and thank Attorney General James and her team for sending a clear message that it is unacceptable to retaliate against any employee for doing their part to protect their coworkers and the community from COVID-19.”
If a New Yorker believes they have been retaliated against for exercising their rights in the workplace, they should reach out to the OAG's Labor Bureau by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (212) 416-8700.
This case was handled by Senior Counsel Sandra Pullman of the Civil Rights Bureau, Assistant Attorney General Christina Bedell of the Nassau Regional Office, and Social Justice Coordinator Francisca Montana. The Nassau Regional Office is led by Assistant Attorney General in Charge Valerie Singleton, and is a part of the Division of Regional Affairs, which is led by Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs Jill Faber. The Labor Bureau is overseen by Chief Karen Cacace, and is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux. Both the Division of Regional Affairs and the Division for Social Justice are overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.