While many business owners are celebrating governors’ decisions around the country to begin relaxing restrictions on businesses, polls show that many employees are still concerned about whether they can return to work safety. In turn, business owners are concerned about the threat of lawsuits from employees who may be exposed or contract COVID-19 at work. What then, should employers be doing as they prepare to reopen?
First, business owners should ensure that they are following any guidelines or recommendations for safely reopening their business, at a minimum. If the state or local government has implemented an order mandating that masks be worn inside enclosed public spaces, for example, employers should ensure that employees are wearing masks while at work. Social distancing guidelines should be followed and procedures implemented to ensure that all hygiene practices are being followed. OSHA and the CDC have developed and issued guidance to allow employers to ensure that they are meeting the minimum recommended requirements. Second, employers should also have procedures and processes in place to ensure that employees who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 are not entering the workplace. Again, the CDC has a list of symptoms of COVID-19 which employees should be self-reporting to employers. Other processes, such as temperature checks or mandatory testing may make employees feel safer about returning but may have limited practical impact. Finally, employers should continue to review and communicate the leave benefits available to employees to encourage symptomatic employees to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All of the steps a business is doing to reopen safely should be communicated to employees to alleviate as many of their concerns as possible.
While business owners have been lobbying Congress to include immunity from lawsuits in any future stimulus package, no legislation has been introduced to do so and the proposals take many forms. Some proposals provide blanket immunity while others instead make employee claims compensable under worker’s compensation, limit relief to employees who are hospitalized, or limit relief available to customers of a business. Should any legislation affecting liability pass, we will follow with an update at that time.
As we move forward through the phases of reopening, we will continue to monitor the federal, state and local responses to COVID-19. Please visit our resources page for additional information as we move, hopefully, to a return to normalcy.
On Wednesday, May 20th at 9:00am ET – WCS attorneys and Plack Group’s Harry Plack joined together to discuss steps for businesses to move forward.
If you have any questions, please contact our Employment & Labor Law practice group.
Visit our COVID-19 Resource Page for more updates.