Legislation Workplace exposures

Senate bill aimed at limiting employer liability during COVID-19 pandemic

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Washington — Legislation recently introduced in the Senate would temporarily limit COVID-19 liability for employers who comply with public health guidelines and aren’t acting with “gross negligence.”

Cornell University Law School defines “gross negligence” as “a lack of care that demonstrates reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, which is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety.” The school adds that “gross negligence” is more than a simple, inadvertent act.

The Safeguarding America’s Frontline Employees To Offer Work Opportunities Required to Kickstart the Economy (SAFE TO WORK) Act (S. 4317), introduced July 27 by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and co-sponsored by 19 other Republicans – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), would provide liability protection to establishments that employ frontline workers such as teachers, doctors and nurses, among others. Additionally, the bill would limit liability from personal injury lawsuits brought against businesses, schools, colleges, nonprofit organizations or churches. These protections would be effective until Oct. 1, 2024.

“These protections would apply to personal injury lawsuits stemming from actual exposure to coronavirus as well as feared or potential exposure,” Cornyn says in a July 27 press release. “This legislation would protect those acting in good faith from being sued into oblivion while ensuring bad actors who willingly put their patients, employees or customers in danger will still be held accountable.”

 

In a separate July 27 press release, the advocacy group American Association for Justice claims the bill would “give sweeping liability immunity to corporations” and “increase infection rates, make consumers and workers less safe, and prolong the pandemic because businesses will be allowed to act unreasonably knowing they are immune from accountability.”

The association adds that the bill “doesn’t address one action that businesses and lawmakers from both parties have been calling for: enforceable, science-based workplace standards to help businesses protect their customers and workers.”

At press time, the bill had been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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