Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide a safe workplace, free from serious hazards, complying with standards rules and regulations issued under the OSH Act. As pressure mounts to reopen the economy, employers are feeling the heat to protect their employees from the known hazards of Covid-19.
In a recent letter published by the U.S. Chamber of Congress President regarding the issue, “a safe workplace requires the use of protective equipment (PPE), respirators and physical barriers” to keep employees safe. Health experts around the globe have emphasized the importance of social distancing. With not enough PPE to go around and social distancing in some industries an impossibility, could employers face lawsuits if they fail to take the appropriate steps to keep their employees from getting sick with Covid-19?
There is already trouble brewing – meat processing plants across the U.S. and in Iowa have been forced to close because of widespread Covid 19 infections. Some workers say “employers are not doing enough to keep them safe.” A lawsuit against a meat processing giant alleges workers do not have “time to wash their hands, or even cover their mouth when they sneeze or cough” – not ideal conditions to prevent the spread of the virus.
With the threat of more exposure-related lawsuits, businesses may well be deterred form reopening even if they are given the green light by health authorities. Many are calling for the government to clarify the scope of liability employers could face.
In the meantime, employers are well-advised to take feasible measures to identify and control hazards related to Covid-19 in addition to keeping their workplaces free from other hazards to prevent workplace injuries and death. If you or a family member has been injured in your Quad-Cities workplace, contact the Davenport workers’ compensation and employment law attorneys of McDonald, Woodward & Carlson PC for answers at 563-355-6478.