Workers Seek Class Action Status For Sutter Health Lawsuit Over Unsafe Cleanser

All workers have the right to a safe workplace. When employers prioritize profits and cost-cutting measures, it is often the employees who suffer the consequences.

Workers who have experienced or witnessed on-the-job safety violations have several options. They can report the safety issues to a government agency like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or they can band together and bring a class-action lawsuit against their employer.

When a group of workers has suffered the same employment violations, a class action can be an effective way to get an employer to change their unlawful workplace practices. The resulting settlement is divided among all affected employees who are members of the class.

Five employees filed a lawsuit against Sutter Health, alleging their employer made them use a “corrosive” cleanser to help fight a germ in its hospitals. Based in Sacramento, California, the health system has faced high rates of Costridioides difficile infections.

According to the complaint filed in Alameda Court, the cleanser was so toxic that dozens of workers fell ill after using it. Sutter Health allegedly forced employees to continue using the product despite warnings from multiple physicians about its hazards.

Sutter Health had previously used a two-step cleaning process. The process was replaced with a new product, Ecolab’s OxyCide, that was cheaper and allegedly saved the employer millions of dollars.

The lawsuit is seeking class-action certification to include 1,800 environmental services employees. One plaintiff allegedly suffered reactive airways disease after being exposed to the cleanser. The condition makes breathing difficult as the bronchial tubes swell in response to an irritant.

Another plaintiff told supervisors that initial exposure to the product resulted in uncontrollable coughing and a severe burning sensation in her eyes. She protested the use of OxyCide via a petition, which was signed by 140 workers. Some employees even complained about the unsafe cleanser to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and other regulatory agencies.

The lawsuit said Sutter Health refused to eliminate OxyCide despite being confronted about its harmful effects. Instead, the employer blamed the harm on user error, making employees undergo retraining.

Sometimes workers are hesitant to speak up about workplace safety issues, fearing they will somehow be punished for doing so. California employees have the right to report health and safety violations to a government agency or to complain about them to a supervisor.

The law protects workers from any form of retaliation for exercising their rights. This means an employer cannot fire you, cut your hours or engage in other negative actions because you complained about a safety issue.

While Erlich Law Firm is not involved with the Sutter Health lawsuit, our Oakland employment lawyers are available to help workers who have been subjected to unlawful treatment in the workplace. We have experience with both individual lawsuits and class-action cases across a wide range of employment issues. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation.

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