Legal Aid Society


LAS: Frontline Healthcare Workers Exploited During COVID-19 Pandemic

The Legal Aid Society filed 6 complaints with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a group of ethnically Chinese and Taiwanese frontline healthcare workers who were employed as phlebotomists (blood-test nurses) by BioReference Laboratories, Inc. in Flushing, Brooklyn, and Chinatown, during the COVID-19 pandemic, reports THE CITY.

The EEOC complaint alleges that the workers were forced to work in sweatshop-like conditions in overheated rooms for long hours, perform duties that were expressly against BioReference’s policy and are illegal for phlebotomists to fulfill, work overtime without pay for those hours, and perform COVID-19 antibody tests temporarily at Grand Central Station under hostile working conditions. During the early months of the pandemic, the workers were also forced to work with inadequate PPE—including bloody, previously used gloves—which put them at additional risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Moreover, one phlebotomist was expressly told by a senior manager at BioReference that she was not allowed to become pregnant within her first year at BioReference. Fearing for her job, she made efforts to hide her pregnancy and suffered an injury while performing her work duties. In another case, a worker was denied her earned sick leave. She died shortly thereafter.

Carmela Huang, Supervising Attorney with the Employment Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society, told THE CITY that her clients believed that their ethnicity was a main reason for being treated “in this sort of degrading fashion.”

“They certainly knew if they were not ethnically Chinese, they would not have been treated in this same way,” Huang said.