Even as many businesses begin the reopening process, COVID-19 is still very much a public health concern. While you may be implementing liability waivers for your customers and clients to limit the risk to your organization, when it comes to your employees, think again.
Liability waivers from employees are generally unenforceable, regardless of the jurisdiction, as judges tend to rule that they are unfair and against public policy. In fact, many state workers’ compensation laws actually forbid employers from forcing employees to sign liability waivers, so companies could actually be providing evidence for their employees to use against them in a claim that they have failed to take seriously, or even breached, their duty to provide a safe workplace.
Employees who contract COVID-19 at work may be eligible for benefits under their state workers’ compensation laws. Generally, workers must demonstrate that they got sick on the job, which can be difficult to prove for an airborne illness. Given the current pandemic, however, some states are now presuming that sick workers caught the virus on the job, making it easier for workers to receive benefits.
In addition to the legal concerns, employers should consider workforce morale. Though the unemployment rate fell in June, the total number of jobs lost thus far during the COVID-19 pandemic still far outweigh the 2008-2009 recession. Forcing employees to choose between signing away their legal rights and losing their jobs is not a way to generate goodwill for any organization, and it could even appear coercive.
Bottom line: anyone even remotely familiar with the legal world is used to navigating a lot of gray area, but this is one question with an easier answer.
Please note this current global emergency and applicable laws, regulations, proposals, guidance, advice, and responses change rapidly. We strive to keep you up to date as much as possible, but this blog article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Contact myHRcounsel with questions concerning specific facts and circumstances.