The Coronavirus Has Brought Up Serious Injury & Employment Law Questions: Are You in Harm’s Way?
There is no question that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has very quickly changed all of our lives, including here in Florida, where, according to the latest updates, the confirmed cases are up to 15,698, with 323 deaths.
As attorneys who work in both personal injury and labor and employment law in Jacksonville, Lake City, and surrounding areas, we have received a number of questions from concerned consumers, employees, and others over the last several weeks concerning liability, concern, and legal rights in terms of the recent health crisis. It is true that employers and property owners must take reasonable precautions to protect employees and others who come onto their property, especially those who are particularly vulnerable to infection, such as those with autoimmune or respiratory issues and the elderly. Because of what we know about the virus and who it specifically affects, how it spreads, and the effects that it has, certain parties failing to take reasonable precautions to prevent infection can turn into an issue of negligence that affects a wide variety of industries, people, and incidents, from nursing homes, to stores and other properties, such as cruise ships and airports, to accidents that lead to wrongful death.
What Should I Expect for My Protection?
The first step in these circumstances is figuring what is “reasonable” in terms of taking precautions—In other words, does this mean that every employer should let every employee work from home and/or provide a certain amount of sick leave? That every business should shut down, regardless of whether or not the state provides a directive to that effect? That every nursing home and hospital is automatically behaving negligently if it does not ensure that every resident, doctor, and nurse are tested and/or provided with personal protective equipment, etc.? Obviously, the law and the government does necessarily provide specific answers to these questions, at least at this time, unless and until there is further word from the state of Florida and/or Congress. However, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers have a legal obligation to provide “safe, healthful working conditions,” which includes being protected against “hazards that can cause serious physical harm or death.” This is known as OSHA’s General Duty Clause. Also note that if your local state government has put a ban or quarantine in place, an employer could very well arguably face a burden in terms of needing to allow you to work remotely.
OSHA’s New Guidance On Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released new guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19, and while the guidance is not a regulation or standard, and does not create new legal obligations, all parties in a potential position of liability would be wise to take basic precautions identified in resources like these because, if and when there are complaints, it is entirely possible that the standard of reasonability will be measured against guidance provided by federal agencies; guidance like what is provided in this document.
Some of these basic precautions identified by OSHA included the following:
- Communicating with employees about flexibilities available, such as telecommuting, sick leave, the ability for employees to stay home to care for sick family members, etc.
- Developing an infectious disease preparedness and response plan and policies and procedures to identify and isolate sick employees
- Implementing basic infection prevention measures
- Eliminating any non-essential travel for staff
- Providing personal protective equipment if necessary
Finally, it is also important to note that any incidents involving employees contracting the virus at work are recordable illnesses that are subject to the same OSHA penalties as other workplace injuries and illnesses in terms of duty to record.
Contact Our Florida Injury & Employment Law Attorneys to Find Out More
If you have any questions about you or your loved one potentially being placed in harm’s way, contact the Jacksonville personal injury lawyers at Douglas & Carter, Attorneys at Law to find out how we can help you recover compensation for the negligence or workplace discrimination that has caused you harm. We are here for you during this difficult time.