Can COVID-Related Liability Protections Shield Employers?

On Behalf of | Oct 28, 2020 | Workers' Compensation

The coronavirus pandemic has led to radical changes in all aspects of life. While many workplaces are allowing employees to work remotely, some jobs require staff on-site with requisite COVID-driven protections such as masks and social distancing. Yet, regardless of the proactive steps, some workers, specifically those on the front-line and considered essential, are losing their lives.

Coronavirus Lawsuits Are Now a Reality

Historically, employers being held accountable for workplace-related employee deaths presents significant challenges. These cases are considered workers’ compensation matters involving medical costs and lost income.

In spite of that “tradition, the initial wave of legal actions against high-profile companies by workers has already begun. As of the end of July, nearly 70 lawsuits were filed, some against retail giants such as Walmart.

As life has changed, so may the legal system. Labor-related coronavirus deaths could be fodder for successful litigation by surviving family members. With CDC and OSHA guidelines guidance surrounding wearing facemasks and physical distancing currently in place, businesses that fail to adhere to those standards or deny the severity of the virus could find themselves in court.

Congress is considering legislation that will provide employer liability protections as part of a future relief package. Industries exempted would include healthcare, education, and others where exposure to coronavirus is more likely. Provided that they made “reasonable efforts,” employers would not face legal ramifications if an employee dies.

The proposed law would also place a cap on punitive damages, provide employers the option of countersuing for cases without merit, and the Department of Justice to pursue action against attorneys who continue to file lawsuit after lawsuit.

Opponents of the “blanket immunity” allege that safety measures are lagging, at best, making enforcement efforts far too easy for employers while continuing to put employees at risk.