Labor & Employment law - Employers only

Can a spider bite get you sued for discrimination?

Law Office of David Miklas, P.A.

An employee was bitten by a brown recluse spider on his neck while working. The spider bite resulted in the employee’s fingers on both hands going numb and him having an unhealed hole in his neck.The employee was referred to the employer’s occupational physician who gave the employee medication which caused further reactions. The employee spoke to Human Resources (HR) about applying for Workers’ Compensation and he was told that he couldn’t apply for this, but to apply for short-term disability instead. The employee was out of work on approved leave for three weeks. After his return to work, the employee continued to have issues from the spider bite, and requested accommodations from HR, specifically requesting to be placed to work off the production floor because he couldn't risk getting dirt in the hole in his neck and it was dangerous for him to perform his usual job due to his hand numbness. However, he was assigned to his same position.

After his return to work, the employee raised complaints of safety issues occurring in the work place, including observing brown recluse spider webs in the work area, hydraulic hoses being placed near high heat, overflowing barrels of toxic chemicals, and not being paid properly.  The employee informed Human Resources that he also brought these issues to the attention of OSHA.

The employee was advised that the plant supervisor, held the opinion that “safety slows production” and the employee was assigned to work under a machine. When the employee complained that he didn’t want to crawl under a moving machine, his boss told the employee, “old  man, get under there.”  The boss allegedly referred to the employee as “'old” or “old man” several times following his return to work.

The employee reported his boss’s age-related comments to the main Supervisor and to HR.  A few weeks later the employee quarantine for COVID and was terminated while on quarantine.

The employee sued the employer for discrimination based on his age and based on a disability, and also retaliation, and age discrimination  The employee’s lawsuit claimed that the employer was hostile to the employee’s age, disability and/or workplace injury and complaints of workplace safety issues, his need to take time off of work as a result of his workplace injury, and his applications for Worker's Compensation and short-term disability benefits. Also, he claimed that the harassment resulted in a negative employment action being taken against him, namely the termination of his  employment.

Employers are reminded that this lawsuit likely was caused both by the supervisor’s comments and also HR’s actions.  Supervisors should be trained that their comments can create legal liability for an employer.  Also, it is crucial that HR professionals regularly attend seminars to stay current on employment law.

If you need any assistance in handling claims of discrimination or retaliation concerning your Florida business or if you need guidance in any employment policies, please promptly email the Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. or call us at 1-772-465-5111.

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