Right now, states around the country are reopening in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. As they do, employees and business owners alike are facing two crucial questions. First, are the workplaces safe? Second, is an employer considered liable if their employees contract the virus?
Unfortunately, the answers to these questions aren’t always straightforward. Here’s what you need to know about liability as an employer in the time of COVID-19.
Coronavirus 101: The Liability of Companies
As the Coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, companies must focus on ensuring the safety of their employees. Although it’s impossible to protect workers completely from the Coronavirus, companies that do not have adequate illness and injury policies and response plans are at increased risk for HR and legal concerns.
Companies who want to be proactive about keeping employees safe should turn to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a resource. As it stands now, OSHA requires companies to maintain a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm” to their workers.
In the wake of Coronavirus, OSHA recommends that companies follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended guidelines. These guidelines include the following measures:
Maintaining social distancing
Conducting temperature scanning
Wearing face masks and other PPE (personal protective equipment)
Utilizing hand sanitizer
In addition to OSHA and CDC guidelines, there may be other laws in place to protect employees. Among other things, these laws shield employees from physical harm at work. Giving them avenues for recourse if they suffer an injury on the job.
In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Act is the rule of law. Under this legislation, employees who contract the disease at work may be entitled to pursue legal action against the company they work for.
The challenge for employees, however, lies in proving that they did indeed become ill in the workplace.
The Burden of Proof: Determining Point of Transmission
Even if you become ill at work and are legally entitled to seek damages, you must first prove that you did contract the disease in the workplace.
To win your case, you’ll likely have to prove that the company you work for did not take recommended preventative measures and that’s what led directly to contracting the illness. Again – employers who follow CDC and state-specific guidelines are less likely to face legal or HR challenges.
Unfortunately for employees, meanwhile, OSHA is not officially inspecting precautions or enforcing guidelines for individual companies. This means it would likely be challenging to prove your company did not take preventative measures to protect workers.
If you do get sick, filing a worker’s compensation claim is an option. Taking that route, however, often requires employees to relinquish the right to sue. Additionally, winning workers’ comp claims is difficult, and involves a heavy burden of proof. To understand the best avenue for action in your case, it’s recommended you hire a personal injury attorney to assist you. In cases involving the novel Coronavirus, there is not yet a legal precedent set. And there are many unknowns surrounding litigation, workers’ rights, and the burden of proof.
Right now, states such as Kentucky and Illinois are implementing legislation to shift the burden of proof from workers to employers. In these states, essential workers enjoy “the presumption that the workers that are essential caught the disease at work.” If essential workers in these states fall ill, it’s up to the company to demonstrate that they contracted the illness outside the workplace.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney to Protect Your Interests
If you or a loved one suffered illness or death as a result of Coronavirus contracted at work, it’s critical to protect yourself. Here at Ward & Barnes, we specialize in personal injury and medical malpractice law.
Our team has the skills and experience to represent you during this trying time. Get the representation you need and the settlement you deserve with the help of our skilled legal professionals. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule your initial consultation.