Can I Sue My Employer If I Used Roundup at Work?

Landscapers and groundskeepers harmed by Roundup may need to rely on workers’ compensation rather than suing their employer.

If you're employed as a landscaper or groundskeeper, there's a good chance you've used the weed killer Roundup, and you may know of the potential link between its primary ingredient (glyphosate) and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer. In this article, we'll:

  • look at the current legal landscape of claims over the safety of Roundup
  • discuss workers' compensation claims for on-the-job exposure to (and illness linked to) Roundup, and
  • explain when employers (and former employers) might face a lawsuit over Roundup-related illness.

Roundup Lawsuits and Potential Defendants

In recent years, thousands of Roundup users have sued Bayer (and Monsanto, the Roundup manufacturer acquired by Bayer in 2018), claiming that their use of the popular weed killer caused their cancer. Some of these plaintiffs are landscapers and groundskeepers who used Roundup during the course of their employment. One of the most notable of these cases involved a groundskeeper named Dewayne Johnson, who was awarded $289 million in damages by a California jury (the award was later reduced to $20.5 million).

But can employers and groundskeepers also bring a Roundup-related lawsuit against their employer? After all, it's often the employer that supplies Roundup or requires the employee to use the product, so that during the course of employment, the landscaper or other worker is exposed to glyphosate by:

  • absorbing Roundup through the skin
  • breathing in Roundup vapor, or
  • ingesting Roundup when eating food with hands that still contain Roundup residue.

While a homeowner might use Roundup a few times a year, with only a few hours of cumulative exposure during that time, a landscaper might use Roundup every day, with hundreds or thousands of hours of cumulative exposure in a given season.

If you're a landscaper who has used Roundup extensively and been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma or some other illness, you might have a viable lawsuit against Bayer/Monsanto. But a lawsuit against your employer is probably not feasible under workers' compensation laws.

Workers' Compensation and Roundup-Related Illness

Workers' compensation provides benefits to workers who get hurt on the job. Benefits typically include medical treatment reimbursement and lost wages. In some states, benefits may also include vocational rehabilitation.

What makes workers' compensation special is that the worker can usually obtain these benefits without having to prove who was at fault for the worker's injury or illness. As long as the worker properly reports the injury and follows the workers' compensation process, they will typically receive benefits, even if the injury is the result of the worker's own mistake.

The drawback is that an employee eligible for workers' compensation benefits cannot sue the employer for job-related injury or illness. This tradeoff is the workers' compensation "grand bargain." In return for theoretically guaranteed workers' compensation benefits, the worker gives up the right to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the employer. A workers' compensation claim is the sole remedy.

Can Workers Ever Sue Their Employers?

State workers' compensation schemes vary, but a worker can usually bring a personal injury lawsuit against an employer (instead of filing a workers' compensation claim) if one of three main exceptions apply:

  • the employer does not have (or does not have enough) workers' compensation insurance
  • the injury is the result of the employer's intentional, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct (note that an employer's failure to warn an employee about the risks of using Roundup probably would not meet this exception), or
  • the injured worker is not an employee, but an independent contractor.

What About Suing a Former Employer Over Roundup Use?

In most states, workers' compensation claims focus on the injured individual's employment status at the time of injury, not when filing a claim. As long as the injury occurred while employed, the workers' compensation system will likely be the sole avenue of recovery.

In other words, a worker who discovers they have non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after retiring, quitting, or getting fired can still probably only obtain recovery from the employer through workers' compensation, if their illness is linked to on-the-job use of Roundup. Learn more about time limits for filing a workers' compensation claim.

Remember, while workers' compensation is likely a groundskeeper or landscaper's sole remedy against an employer when it comes to illness caused by Roundup/glyphosate use, a lawsuit against Bayer is always an option. Discuss your situation with an injury attorney to determine your best strategy.

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