June 05, 2020

Let the Claims Begin!

From COVID-19 has evolved a slew of new laws, regulations, guidance and, yes, lawsuits. As of early May, the American Bar Association reported that nearly 800 COVID-19 related lawsuits had been filed. Employers should give due thought and consideration to these trends and ensure they avoid these legal pitfalls. Here are just a few examples.

  • OSHA – The general duty clause requires an employer to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”  As of June 3rd, OSHA reports receiving nearly 17,000 complaints, including those filed with state agencies.
  • Paid Sick Leave – As of this writing, National Law Review reports at least two states, three local jurisdictions and the District of Columbia have enacted new COVID-19 sick leave laws that require paid leave in addition to what employers may already offer or be required to offer under existing laws. At least 20 others have issued guidance or regulations with COVID-19 specific guidance related to existing leave laws.
  • Public Nuisance – McDonald’s and Smithfield are just two companies that have been sued, alleging their failure to take reasonable precautions related to COVID-19 should result in the companies being declared a public nuisance. Good news for Smithfield, the judge dismissed the case.
  • Unemployment – The U.S. Department of Labor and some states are taking steps to ensure individuals who are offered an employment opportunity and decline the offer for a non-qualifying reason, are determined to be ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits. Check your state’s department or agency. For example, Maryland has posted an email address with instructions for submitted related information.
  • Workers’ Compensation (WC) – The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 22 states plus Puerto Rico have or are considering executive orders, regulations or new laws addressing COVID-19 related illness as compensable under workers’ compensation benefits.  Talk to your WC carrier for any recommendations for proactive practices.

In short, carefully review your employment practices, policies and procedures. Now might be a good time to review then not just as they relate to COVID-19, but as they relate to compliance with all of your federal, state and local laws and regulations.