Liability Risks Come Back to Work, Too

Bloomberg Businessweek|June 15, 2020

Liability Risks Come Back to Work, Too
Without a vaccine, some returnees will get sick, and businesses may end up in court
James E. Ellis

As Americans return to the offices, shops, restaurants, and factories they left months ago, employers are wrestling with the legal consequences of getting U.S. workers back on the job while the pandemic is still spreading. Because there’s no cure or vaccine yet for Covid-19, two things are certain: People will get sick, and many will end up in court demanding safer working conditions or compensation for lost wages and medical bills.

Some employees already have filed lawsuits claiming companies including McDonald’s, Amazon.com, and Smithfield Foods aren’t doing enough to keep workers and their families free of coronavirus, even though employers are promising to follow such health guidelines as maintaining social distancing, improving sanitation, and providing personal protective gear. And legal experts see possible fights over other issues like privacy rights, age discrimination, or employees at greater risk of infection who are compelled to return too soon.

“With Covid-19 still spreading, companies that require employees to work on-site or interact with the public will need to be careful to avoid winding up in court,” says Samuel Estreicher, a professor at New York University’s law school and director of its Center for Labor and Employment Law. “Legal risks will be one of the key things for businesses to prepare for as the economy reopens.”

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June 15, 2020