While businesses have finally decided to open their doors to the employees again, the looming threat of coronavirus is still there. This brings us to the critical challenge that employers are now facing, the danger of being sued by employees if they contract the virus in the workplace. Even with all the safety measures in place, the risk of covid spread can never be eliminated. With this in mind, many employers have sought to have their employees sign a COVID-19 liability waiver before resuming work.
As an employee, it's only natural for you to feel alarmed, being asked to sign a document that would put no obligation on the employer to keep you safe from infection hazards within the work premises. Read on to know everything about the COVID-19 liability waiver and whether an employer can enforce it in a workplace.
The COVID-19 liability waiver is an agreement per which the signee forfeits any right to sue their employer if they contract coronavirus in the workplace. Usually, liability waivers are signed between health clubs and members to ensure they don't get roped into a lawsuit for any injuries that any member suffers on the property. The same principles apply here. Once an employee signs a COVID-19 liability waiver, they would lose the right to sue their employer if they get infected with the virus in the workplace.
In the wake of COVID and the subsequent reopening of offices, the state and federal governments issued certain guidelines for employers to follow to keep the premises safe and disinfected for the employees' return. This is in addition to the standard safety protocols that the Federal Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Act has laid forth. Some states have enforced other laws to protect employees from potential occupational hazards and diseases. However, with the COVID-19 waivers, the employers could escape responsibility if their employees get infected due to unsafe working conditioning.
But since workers' compensation claims cannot be waivered, and with some states considering including COVID-19 as an occupational disease against which damages could be recovered, employees could find some relief there. California is one such state that has made this disease compensable for now, provided that the employees meet certain conditions before filing for the claim. Wisconsin could also find itself on the same list.
The enforceability of COVID-19 waivers differs from state to state. Certain states are reluctant to the idea of enforcing covid liability waivers in the workplace because of the leverage that employers would get over their workers from this order. With states like Virginia and Louisiana unwilling to enforce even personal injury liability waivers, save for a few exceptional cases, it's unlikely that COVID-19, given that it is highly infectious and contagious, would be an exception to this in these states. Other states would probably follow in the same footsteps.
The only difficulty is, even if you weren't asked to sign the waiver, there is no guarantee that you would be able to recover damages for your illness. One of the prime reasons for this is that it would be difficult to prove that you got infected in the workplace, what with the massive spread of the virus, both in professional, personal, and social spaces.
So the first challenge you would face is to prove that it was in your office that you caught the infection. Next, you would have to prove that the reason you got infected was due to the oversight of your employer when it came to putting safety measures against the spread of the virus in place. Even if the employer puts in all the effort through all the guidelines and directives of the government in terms of workplace standard operating procedures, the employer won't be able to guarantee the safety of every single employee, considering just how contagious the disease is. If you choose to file a lawsuit against the employer, consider it an uphill battle.
Employers may try to save their skin by making their employees sign the COVID-19 waiver, but it could be counterproductive for several reasons. For one, the employee might lose their faith in the employee, seeing how their employer is more concerned about their economic interests than the health of their workers. By extension, this would make certain employees reluctant to come back to work and rejoin, fearing that the employer could become lax about the COVID-19 safety protocol. Not only would the employer lose face in front of the employees, but it would also reflect poorly on the company and its organizational values.
Some companies are only enforcing waivers for those employees who are choosing to work from the office, even though they are not asked to join the office just yet by the employer. This way, the employee resumes in-office work knowing the risks involved and their employer's unwillingness.