Can Companies be Held Liable if their Employees End up with the Coronavirus?
In California and throughout the country, businesses are looking to reopen as the COVID-19 pandemic (hopefully) winds down. Each state has their own reopening plan, which is divided into various phases depending on the current conditions (in the state) with regards to the number of coronavirus cases and whether or not the number of cases is trending in the right direction.
California is moving along more cautiously than in many other states. In the Golden State, it is likely that things will not be back to normal for quite some time, and many of the specific conditions necessary for certain businesses to reopen have yet to be determined.
There is a strong and spirited debate about the speed at which we are reopening the country, and the need to protect customers and employees from contracting the virus is one of the major concerns. As smaller businesses like hair salons, tattoo parlors, and sit-down restaurants begin to reopen, there is understandable concern about what processes they are going to put in place to make sure everyone is safe.
Many states have already begun reopening, and they are mostly in the southeast part of the US. Among the first to reopen was Georgia, and they have implemented several safeguards to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
For example, social distancing of at least 6-feet, the use of masks and gloves, sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces, and similar measures have all become commonplace. The state is also requiring all restaurant workers to wear facemasks and asking other businesses to use protective equipment like facemasks if it is appropriate for the safety and functionality of the operation.
Some businesses in the “reopen” states do not feel comfortable opening back up yet, and others are doing so with extreme caution. Hairstylists, for example, are all wearing masks and gloves and they are usually requiring their patrons to do so as well. They are also limiting the number of customers that can be in the salon at one time and keeping styling stations at least 6 feet apart and/or leaving every other chair empty.
OSHA requires employers to keep their workplaces “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm” to employees. To accomplish this in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are advising businesses to follow CDC guidelines such as social distancing, taking the temperatures of employees before they start work, disinfecting surfaces, wearing masks and gloves, etc. If a company fails to implement proper workplace safety standards, they could open themselves up to legal action.
Can Companies Be Sued if an Employee Ends Up with COVID-19?
The coronavirus outbreak is still a very fluid situation, so there is no cut and dry answer to this question. There will certainly be lawsuits against employers if an employee ends up with the coronavirus, and in fact, there have been several already. For example, a Dallas, Texas meat plant is being sued by the wife of a 36-year-old worker who died after contracting COVID-19 at work. And last month, Walmart was sued by the family of a worker who died from the coronavirus after getting it at work. It is too early to tell how these, and similar lawsuits will turn out.
The US Chamber of Commerce has expressed concern about the liability exposure of businesses as they start reopening, and they have asked Congress to intervene. However, there is sharp disagreement among the political parties about whether or not to provide liability protections that would be specific to the coronavirus. For this reason, the fate of any possible legislation that would address this issue is very much in doubt.
Whether the government takes action to limit the liability of businesses or not, many experts believe that filing a successful lawsuit against an employer after contracting COVID-19 would be an uphill battle for most employees.
First of all, they would need to prove that they got the virus at work and not outside of work, which may be a very high bar to clear unless there was an outbreak at their particular workplace. Secondly, if an employee qualifies for workers’ compensation benefits, they are generally barred from suing their employer except in very limited cases in which they can show deliberate intent on the part of the employer to create an unsafe work environment.
Contact Garmo & Garmo for any Legal Help Related to COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented event that will forever impact our society in countless ways. The legal ramifications alone are numerous, and many questions like the liability exposure of businesses where an employee or customer contracts COVID-19 will take several months or longer to resolve.
At Garmo & Garmo, we will continue to monitor all of the latest legal developments and provide the skilled guidance and representation our clients have always received. We continue to take all the precautions and perform many of our tasks remotely as we follow social distancing guidelines, but our office remains fully operational and equipped with the technology and resources to serve your legal needs.
For a free consultation with one of our attorneys, message us online or call us today at (619) 441-2500.