Companies want workers to believe that the workplace is safe, while at the same time lobbying politicians for drastic legal protection against employee lawsuits.
“When Jonathan Corpina, a senior managing partner at Meridian Equity Partners, returned to work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in late May, he was met with temperature screenings, hand sanitizer stations, plexiglass barriers — and a liability waiver.
The stock exchange required Mr. Corpina and others who work there to acknowledge that returning to work could expose them to the coronavirus, and to promise not to sue if they were infected. Mr. Corpina said that he felt comfortable with that risk, and that he believed other companies would most likely follow suit.
‘This is not something that is going to be unique to this building, in my opinion,’ he said of the waiver.
Whether companies are liable if their workers and customers catch the coronavirus has become a key question as businesses seek to reopen around the country. Companies and universities — and the groups that represent them — say they are vulnerable to a wave of lawsuits if they reopen while the coronavirus continues to circulate widely, and they are pushing Congress for temporary legal protections they say will help get the economy running again.
But that idea has engendered stiff opposition, particularly among congressional Democrats and labor unions, who say some businesses are doing too little to protect vulnerable workers, and that such a liability shield would only encourage reckless behavior.
For the moment, states and companies are taking matters into their own hands. States like Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah have issued executive orders or passed legislation to give businesses more protection if their workers or customers get the coronavirus.
Amusement parks, salons, real estate businesses and gyms have begun requiring attendees, customers and workers to sign liability waivers pledging not to sue. Even attendees registering for President Trump’s upcoming rallies must acknowledge the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, and promise not to sue.
‘By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to Covid-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc,’ and any of its employees or affiliates liable for illness or injury, a disclaimer on the registration site for rally tickets reads.
The debate is coming to a head in Washington, as Congress considers its next round of coronavirus legislation. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has singled out liability protection as his conference’s top priority, with White House officials echoing that sentiment. Lawmakers expect that some version of coronavirus relief could pass through both chambers before the end of the summer.”
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