HANFORD, CALIF. – An employee at Hanford, Calif.-based Central Valley Meat Co. has filed a class action lawsuit alleging the company allowed multiple employees to return to work the day after they tested positive for COVID-19 in April and May.

Maria Ornelas, the plaintiff who contracted the coronavirus in April, filed the suit in the US Eastern District of California on behalf of workers at the meat packing facility.

“It is believed Central Valley Meat knowingly allowed at least one employee to work up to five additional days after testing positive for COVID-19, with multiple other employees working varying numbers of days after Central Valley Meat knew or should have known they had tested positive,” the lawsuit said. “In fact, at least one of the first workers to test positive was expressly told by Central Valley Meat to return to work in only two days, despite Central Valley Meat’s clearly knowing this, it utterly failed to comply with CDC’s guidelines.”

The complaint states three company policies that compelled workers to return to work included a $100 per week appreciation bonus for employees who completed all scheduled hours each week. Central Valley allegedly implemented an attendance incentive policy where workers lost $2.50 per hour for every scheduled hour not worked, even if the reason for missing work was related to COVID-19.

Central Valley Meat Co.'s Mike Casey, vice president of risk management and human resource responded to Meat+Poultry's request for comment. 

"We are still reviewing the filing but we can assure you that the health and safety of our employees has and continues to be our top priority," Casey said. "Over the past several months we have continued to review, identify and implement ways to protect our employees. We have continually met or exceeded the CDC COVID-19 recommendations in our facility."

In May, the Fresno Bee reported 183 cases of COVID-19 at the Hanford meat plant.

The court document said Central Valley Meat Co. is the seventh-largest beef packer and processing company in the United States. The company employs over 900 people, processes over 1,500 head of cattle a day, and operates two facilities, one in Hanford and another in Vernon, Calif. The company employs 750 workers at the Hanford plant.