The $900 billion stimulus relief bill that Congress approved Sunday did not include a COVID-19 liability shield. Republicans pushed for it, Democrats opposed it, and the issue is likely dead.
Litigation risks for many employers, however, may not be that great. Proving that an infection originated in the workplace will be difficult, and businesses can protect themselves if they follow federal and state guidelines for ensuring workplace safety, employment attorneys said.
A COVID-19 liability shield would limit the risk of a lawsuit from someone claiming to have become infected at a workplace, retailer or some other third party. Broadly, proponents argue that the lawsuits could potentially crush a business, while opponents believe a shield may encourage reckless behavior. However, just how much of a threat the lawsuits pose is up for debate.
A federal COVID-19 liability shield would create “one uniform standard” but wouldn’t prevent states from providing broader protections for employers, although not less than any federal standard, said Pamela Moore, a partner in McCarter & English’s employment law practice.
Right now, the state laws vary and depend on the standards implemented by the states. But firms that “intentionally or recklessly or willfully expose somebody to COVID-19 and not take precautions, you probably would not be entitled to the limits on liability,” Moore said.