By Brian Skinner, Esq.
An August survey by the Pacific Business Group on Health, found that 57% of major U.S. employers said they will postpone return-to-work plans because of recent increases in coronavirus infections. About 43% say they are planning to bring employees back to the worksite, but with multiple, enhanced safety measures in place.
Part of the reason for this decision is that many schools have announced a delay in opening schools to students for full-time in-person classes and instead will resort to remote or hybrid learning. Because children will not be immediately heading back to the physical classroom, companies are delaying plans for their employees to return to the office. Because of the uncertainties about the upcoming school year, the Pacific Business Group on Health found that 82% of the companies surveyed said they are creating flexible schedules for parents with young children and around 18% say they’re providing additional childcare options through specialty vendors.
Another reason that companies are not anxious to call their employees back into the office is the cost of doing so. To combat the spread of COVID-19, companies will need to put in place new safety measures that will impact the way they do business. Recent events have shown that employees want a virus-safe workplace; customers prefer more digital products and services; and governments are likely to pursue additional regulation and engagement with business. This means that businesses will need to invest in a wide range of safety measures and protocols. Not only will increased investment in safety measure raise costs and lower capacity, but it will curb revenue and profit potential even after the end of the pandemic.
Finally, many business owners are concerned about their legal liability if, or when, an employee or a customer gets sick. As a result, businesses are clamoring for liability protections before they reopen. At the federal level Republican members of Congress and White House officials have argued that liability protection should be part of a new relief package. At the state-level, lawmakers in nine states have already enacted COVID-19 legal liability limits.
Most recently Georgia and Nevada enacted legal liability protection that shields employers in their states from lawsuits related to COVID-19. Other states that have already enacted broad COVID-19 liability protection include North Carolina, Utah, Wyoming, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Kansas. Ten states have enacted broad COVID-19 liability protections, while Arkansas and Alabama, have created liability protection by gubernatorial executive orders. And, several states have crafted narrow liability protections for certain health professionals by both legislation and executive order.
Brian Skinner is the former counsel to the West Virginia House of Delegates Committee on the Judiciary and counsel to the West Virginia Senate Minority Caucus. He has over a decade of experience as an adviser to legislators on legal and political issues related to pending legislation; providing research and legal analysis services to legislative committees; and preparing bills, resolutions, amendments, and other documents for the West Virginia Legislature.