California Labor Commissioner Fines a Los Angeles McDonald’s Franchisee Nearly $126,000 for Retaliatory Terminations

By Kristen M. Smith

The California Labor Commissioner recently fined a McDonald’s franchisee in Los Angeles after the firing of four employees. The terminations took place after the employees raised concerns about unsafe working conditions, due to inadequate precautions against COVID-19 exposure, at their McDonald’s location. The four employees reported their concerns to their employer as well as the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the Los Angeles County Health Department. The employees specifically cited instances of social distancing guidelines not being enforced and insufficient supply of disposable gloves, causing employees to use the same pair of gloves for multiple days in a row in some instances. After the employees reported their concerns and participated in strikes to protest the inadequate safety precautions, they were fired for “job abandonment.”

California law prohibits retaliatory termination, so it is illegal for an employer to terminate a worker, or take other adverse actions such as cutting hours or pay, for reporting a workplace safety hazard. After investigating the termination of the four McDonald’s employees, the California Labor Commissioner determined the terminations to be in violation of California anti-retaliation laws. The Commissioner imposed a fine of $125,913.00, comprised of $45,193.00 in lost wages, $730.00 in interest and $80,000.00 in retaliation penalties. The Commissioner also required the McDonald’s franchisee to reinstate the four employees and post information about the California law violations in the workplace.

If you have questions about your obligations as a franchisee or franchisor in enforcing COVID-19 preventative measures or about your rights to terminate an employee, please contact us.