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How Employers Can Protect Themselves From Liability For Coronavirus Outbreaks in the Workplace

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The coronavirus pandemic has created many new legal questions that have not yet been answered. It will take months – and likely years – for the wave of coronavirus cases to work their way through courts across the country. Until then, it is not clear whether employers will face liability for COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace (and, if so, under what circumstances). There are, however, important steps that your business can take to protect it from the financial effects of costly litigation and increased insurance premiums. The experienced employment lawyers at Maire and Deedon can help put together a COVID-19 plan that is customized to the specific needs of your business. There are also some basic steps that all employers should take to limit their risk of liability:

Have a Plan That Conforms to Government Guidelines

The coronavirus has created many confusing situations that change quickly. Scientists’ understanding of the virus has changed quickly throughout 2020, and this has led to many fast changes in government orders and guidance. Despite the confusion, it is important for employers to follow the guidance that is currently available. There are certain steps that have been consistently recommended by the CDC throughout the pandemic: the use of face coverings, proper handwashing techniques, and maintaining physical distance of at least six feet have all been consistent recommendations for nearly a year now. Employers can reduce their risk of liability by enforcing these steps in the workplace. Some employers have simply passed this information on to employees without enforcing the rules. This is more likely to cause an outbreak, and it can also expose an employer to lawsuits from employees who do contract the coronavirus due to these lax policies. Employers must issue a clear workplace COVID-19 policy and require all employees to follow it. 

Be Sure Your Employees Have the PPE and Sanitizing Products They Need

The CDC and OSHA have also recommended that employers make all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) available to employees who face the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. PPE commonly includes face masks, face shields, and gloves. For workers at increased risk, such as healthcare workers, it might also mean gowns and other barriers. In the riskiest jobs, appropriate PPE might mean a full hazmat suit with a breathing apparatus that protects the employee from all outside air. The PPE that is “appropriate” will depend on your workplace and the specific risk that your employees face while performing their duties. If you do not provide the PPE and sanitizing equipment that will protect employees from the spread of COVID-19, a court or jury could find that you negligently increased the risk of exposing your workers to the virus. Also, as a practical matter, these items will reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 at all. The best way to limit liability for COVID-19 outbreaks is to prevent them altogether.

Update Your Plan To Conform to New Guidelines and Information As It Becomes Available

Everything about the coronavirus has turned into a “rapidly changing situation” and “developing news.” This can be incredibly frustrating for those who are trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. But these changes do not have to be overwhelming. The first step is to develop a clear, written plan for reducing exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. This should be provided to employees and consistently enforced by Human Resources. Once you have this plan, it will be easier to make adjustments that are needed. Management should meet at regular intervals to reassess the plan. Incorporate any changes that are necessary to further reduce the risk of causing an outbreak in your workplace. Once you have a solid plan to start from, it will be easier to incorporate the changes that are necessary as a result of the scientific breakthroughs that are occurring every day.

Experienced California Employment Lawyers Can Help Mitigate Employer Liability During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The experienced employment law attorneys at Maire and Deedon are here to help your business limit and mitigate liability during the COVID-19 pandemic. The global health situation has created many new legal issues that have not yet been resolved. By working with an experienced California employment lawyer, you can take precautions that will reduce the risk that your business will face liability for COVID-19 outbreaks among your employees. Call (530) 246-6050 today to schedule your consultation. The sooner you have a clear plan for reducing exposure to coronavirus, the less exposure your business will have to COVID-19 liability.