In Pennsylvania, the first COVID-19 employee wrongful death lawsuit was filed on May 7, 2020. The lawsuit argues that the employee’s exposure and death from coronavirus was “predictable and preventable” by their company. The worker’s surviving family claims the company should’ve taken better precautions to protect its employees.
While COVID-19 has affected all of us, small, local, and medium-sized businesses are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. Most smaller companies don’t have the same margins and resources as larger companies and corporations. A single employee COVID-19 lawsuit could make the difference between your business surviving the pandemic or not.
Despite your best efforts, what if one of your employees gets COVID-19 and they claim they got exposed on the job? Is the law going to hold you, the business owner, responsible?
The answer depends on your state’s COVID-19 response, workers’ compensation requirements, and business tort laws. If your state’s workers’ compensation laws cover COVID-19, then your workers’ compensation insurance can shield you from liability. But you may still need to take other measures to protect yourself and your workers from coronavirus exposure.
The best way to shield your company from expensive coronavirus liability is to speak to a local Philadelphia-area business lawyer about your options. Skimping on the legal foundations of your business now can hurt you later on down the line.
Every business is different, with unique operational structures and needs. At Holmes Business Law, we create solutions catered to your company and your industry. Call our Philadelphia business law firm at 215-482-0285 now to discuss your company’s best path forward.
You can also read our other posts in this COVID-19 business series:
- Do you need a coronavirus liability waiver for your business?
- What cancellation and rescheduling policies does your business need for COVID-19?
- How can you terminate your commercial lease in a COVID-19 world?
- Can force majeure due to COVID-19 get me out of a contract?
How to Protect Your Company from Employee COVID-19 ClaimsThe recent Pennsylvania lawsuit is a warning for employers not to overlook worker safety during COVID-19. The legal action accuses the company of misrepresenting the risks of the pandemic to employees and ignoring state and federal guidance on coronavirus protocols.
Specifically, the employee’s family is suing the company for:
- Failing to give workers proper PPE while doing their job,
- Forcing workers to work closely in confined spaces,
- Allowing common areas to become crowded,
- A work culture that made employees fear taking sick leave,
- Playing down the risks of exposure on the worksite,
- Failing to test workers or contact trace to monitor exposures.
All while the company knew the risks of the coronavirus pandemic. Pennsylvania law allows workers to sue their employers based on fraudulent misrepresentation of workplace hazards.
At this point, business owners should reasonably be aware of pandemic risks. To lower your risk of liability, you should follow local, state, and federal COVID-19 laws and guidelines. Most businesses that are allowed to operate can only do so if they take the proper precautions to protect their employees and customers from coronavirus exposure.
Depending on your company’s location and operations, that could mean:
- Implementing screening protocols like temperature checks
- Providing enough of the necessary PPE for all of your employees
- Increasing cleaning and sanitization protocols
- Requiring masks to be worn on the premises
- Reorganizing your office or operations space to allow for social distancing
- Closing or lowering the capacity of common areas like break rooms and cafeterias
- Immediately taking action to stop the spread of the exposure at your workplace
If your employees can perform their job duties from home, the safest action may be to encourage them to telecommute. Unfortunately, some businesses – like restaurants, retail stores, or service-based industries – don’t have that option.
Talk to a business lawyer today about the steps your company should take to protect yourself, your employees, and your shareholders. An experienced legal professional can provide creative solutions that you might not have considered otherwise. Creating a sound plan now can set you up for success and help you avoid further trouble in the future.
COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation InsuranceWorkers’ compensation laws help protect businesses from lawsuits by employees who get injured or sick at work. Most companies with employees must have some type of workers’ compensation insurance to make sure that their workers are covered.
The question is whether coronavirus falls under workers’ compensation coverage.
Some states have a workers’ compensation exclusion for “ordinary life diseases” like the common cold or flu. Washington state, for example, recently excluded COVID-19 illness from its workers’ compensation laws. As of March 20, 2020, the Pennsylvania state website classifies COVID-19 illness as an “injury or occupational disease” that qualifies under workers’ compensation “depending on the type of work performed.”
If that sounds vague to you – you’re right. The novel coronavirus is so new that the law around it is being written as we speak. Contact a Philadelphia-area business attorney for a better idea of what to expect for your business moving forward. Your lawyer can determine the risks you face and help you implement a safer, more coronavirus-resilient business strategy.
Nobody could’ve foreseen the effect that COVID-19 would have on the world. As we round out the seventh month of the pandemic, it’s clear the coronavirus is here to stay and we must adjust to protect ourselves and the people around us.
A good business attorney will help you:
- Assess your risks based on your industry and business operations
- Anticipate and avoid potential legal issues now and for the foreseeable future
- Implement policies that protect you and your workers
- Comply with OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
- Follow the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Business and Employers
As the pandemic continues, it will probably lead to no small amount of lawsuits. Although there’s no blanket guarantee to avoiding liability during COVID-19, you can take reasonable, actionable steps to reduce your legal risk. Call the experienced Philadelphia attorneys at Holmes Business Law today at 215-482-0285 to schedule your consultation.