Liability waivers may be in store for employees as more businesses reopen

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As businesses reopen, employees face the risk of contracting COVID-19. That might lead to a showdown over liability between employers and employees. Photo credit: spurekar/CC 2.0, via Flickr

As of Wednesday, LA leads the nation in the highest number of COVID-19 cases per county. The news follows LA County reporting more than 2000 new coronavirus cases several days in a row. The upticks come as more businesses reopen statewide. 

Dr. Michael Wilkes, a professor of medicine and global health at UC Davis, says the risk of contracting the virus might rise as restrictions ease, leading to a liability showdown in the workplace between employers and employees.

“Workers say … their employers should take their health seriously and provide safe working environments. On the other hand, employers say they've already suffered through two crises, both the infection and …the economic slowdown.”

He says some employees, such as traders at the New York Stock Exchange, face new workplace rules such as wearing a face mask at all times and signing a waiver. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 mandates that all employers provide a workplace that’s “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Wilkes says that COVID-19 fits that definition. “This is something that’s recognized as a federal responsibility to assure worker health.”

Wilkes says that workers’ compensation offers protection to both employees and employers. 

It all boils down to feeling safe, Wilkes notes.

“If employees feel that work is unsafe, and they either refuse to go to work or they aren't able to do their work properly, nobody wins. And things, I think, will just escalate in this employee/employer battle.”

Rise of COVID-19 cases in California

Of the total coronavirus cases reported in California, more than a third of cases are from the last two weeks, says Wilkes. 

He notes, however, that COVID-19 reporting has not been precise, with both underreporting and overreporting. Wilkes uses the example of someone who might be listed as dying of a heart attack, when in fact they had the virus. On the other hand, he says in some cases, such as in nursing homes, a blanket COVID-19 cause of death might be used. 




Matt Guilhem