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Several States Pass Protection to Employers from Virus Lawsuits, and Federal Legislation Also Proposed

Several States Pass Protection to Employers from Virus Lawsuits, and Federal Legislation Also Proposed

The State of Georgia has joined several other states in legislation protecting employers from liability related to the Coronavirus.  The Governor is expected to sign the law, thus adding Georgia to Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming having such protection.  The Georgia law would shield employers, healthcare providers and other entities from liability related to the virus except in cases where the entity is found to have committed "gross negligence, willful or wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm."  The State of Georgia has joined several other states in legislation protecting employers from liability related to the Coronavirus.  The Governor is expected to sign the law, thus adding Georgia to Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming having such protection.  The Georgia law would shield employers, healthcare providers and other entities from liability related to the virus except in cases where the entity is found to have committed "gross negligence, willful or wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm."  


Republicans in the U.S. Senate are also proposing similar protective legislation where a worker is allegedly exposed to the Coronavirus in the workplace.  Employers would lose their protection only if they have failed to make reasonable efforts to adhere to applicable public health guidelines and they committed an act of "gross negligence," or "intentional misconduct," according to draft documents.  The bill would also protect employers "from liability and from agency investigation under federal labor and employment laws for actions taken to comply with stay-at-home orders and other public health guidance."
In noting the importance of such bills, readers should remember that in many if not most states, employers will be protected from claims of COVID-19 acquired on the job under workers' compensation provisions which require such compensation to be the exclusive remedy.  However, there are exceptions in some states to such a limitation of liability and, in any event, even under the state legislation and proposed federal legislation, there may be an exception for gross negligence or intentional disregard for safety.  Employers nevertheless desire the additional legislative protection which they hope will spare them time and expenses of defending themselves in court.  Further, even under the proposed or enacted protected legislation, none of the legislation protects against complying with applicable laws pertaining to employment discrimination, leaves of absence, and retaliation against whistle blowers.


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