As states reopen and people return to work, many business owners fear lawsuits from employees who could potentially contract COVID-19 in the workplace. Some lawmakers want to protect business owners from lawsuits, but others fear that without the threat of litigation some employers will not do everything they can to protect the health and well-being of their employees.
Getting people back to work is critical to restoring the U.S. economy, but it is imperative that it be done safely. Business owners are required under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to provide safe and healthful working conditions for their employees. OSHA provides guidance on how to safely reopen business during COVID-19 on its website.
Many brick and mortar stores faced financial challenges before the pandemic. Now that states plan to reopen, many will need to figure out how to adhere to state and federal guidelines to keep their employees and customers safe while maximizing profits. For tips on how to reopen your retail business visit: How to Practice COVID-19 Safety When Reopening Your Retail Business.
Employer and Employee Protections
What about employees who are in a high-risk category with preexisting conditions that make them more susceptible to contracting the virus? Will they be required to return to work if they feel unsafe? Employers should consider each employee’s concerns separately and determine whether extra protective measures can be implemented to address those concerns.
Congressman Mike Turner has proposed the Employer and Employee COVID Protection Act. Under this bill, if an employer is in compliance with state and federal guidelines, they would be protected from liability if an employee were to contract COVID-19 upon reopening. This bill also states, “Employees will be able to decide for themselves whether or not they feel safe staying at work. Employees will have the opportunity to raise specific health concerns with their employer. If the employee is still unsatisfied with their working conditions, they will be permitted to terminate their employment and, for purposes of eligibility for unemployment benefits, the termination will be ‘through no fault of their own.'"
Whether or not businesses will receive immunity from COVID-19 related lawsuits is yet to be decided, but what is certain is that both employers and employees must follow state and federal guidelines to protect themselves and coworkers in the workplace to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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