12:37 PM PT -- The meat processing giant announced it has suspended without pay the employees involved in the COVID bet lawsuit. What's more ... Tyson Foods will launch an independent investigation ... led by Barack Obama's former U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder.
A rep for Tyson Foods tells TMZ ... the company is extremely upset about the accusations involving some of the leadership at the Waterloo plant. The rep adds, "These allegations do not represent who we are, or our CORE VALUES and Team Behaviors."
The rep added that if the claims are confirmed to be true, "we'll take all measures necessary to root out and remove this disturbing behavior from our company."
A Tyson Foods plant in Iowa had no regard for coronavirus safety, and managers even wagered on how many employees would get the virus ... according to a lawsuit filed by a deceased worker's son.
Oscar Fernandez is suing the food giant and several high-ranking officials, claiming his dad, Isidro -- who died April 26 -- was infected with COVID-19 along with 1,000 other employees because the Waterloo facility did not take proper precautions.
Fernandez claims Tyson required employees to work long hours in cramped conditions despite a coronavirus outbreak, failed to provide sufficient PPE and did not implement proper social distancing measures.
Most shockingly, according to the suit ... the Waterloo plant manager organized a cash buy-in, winner-take-all betting pool for supervisors and managers to bet on how many employees would test positive for the virus.
Fernandez repeatedly claims high-ranking Tyson officials pressured workers to keep working no matter what -- and even lobbied government officials to help keep the plant open -- despite 2 dozen employees being admitted to the emergency room in April and the plant temporarily shutting down.
Tyson is being sued for fraudulent misrepresentations, gross negligence and wanton disregard for worker safety.
The company has denied many of the allegations, although their comments have not specifically addressed the alleged betting pool.
Tyson says ... "We're saddened by the loss of any Tyson team member and sympathize with their families. Our top priority is the health and safety of our workers and we've implemented a host of protective measures at Waterloo and our other facilities that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing Covid-19."