To restart the economy, businesses must reopen. To do so safely, business owners across the world and here in the Capital Region are scouring guidance from health and safety authorities. They are making plans, buying supplies, and adopting policies for basic operation. Companies will open with new cleaning guidelines, new protocols, and newly obtained personal protective equipment (PPE), in aim of protecting the health of their employees and customers. Business owners can take action to provide a healthy workplace, but no matter the actions they take, they cannot guarantee the workplace is completely safe from COVID-19. For the sake of our economic recovery, to protect the jobs of employees, and to incentivize good faith actions by employers, business owners cannot also be asked to face the fear of frivolous lawsuits.
Business leaders are fearful that they will face lawsuits and liability claims from employees, customers, or members of the public who contract COVID-19 and attribute their exposure to the action or inaction of their business. Employers need the confidence to open their businesses without a cloud of liability hanging over their heads further risking the livelihoods of themselves and their employees. Unless the legislature limits the risk of this exposure liability, some businesses will choose to delay opening, further risking our region’s economic recovery.
States across the country have extended or enhanced such protections to the healthcare industry; legislation exists in Louisiana to do the same. Protecting those protecting us is a significant first step. Still, the protections need to go further to provide immunity to businesses who are doing their best to protect their staff and customers’ health. Currently, U.S. Senators are negotiating including similar provisions in the next federal stimulus legislation, and Louisiana should do the same.
Without liability protection, a business following the best practices available to it (provided by OSHA, the CDC, or the state) could still be held liable for an easily transmissible virus. Bad actors who ignore health and safety guidance should not receive such protection, but business owners who follow such guidance in good faith should not find themselves in court, fighting to save their livelihoods.
Federal and state governments must act to give businesses the confidence to reopen, and start righting the trajectory of our economic plunge. There are enough risks for businesses right now, frivolous lawsuits shouldn’t be one of them.
For updates on this and other business-related guidance, visit www.brac.org/recovery.
As BRAC’s Manager of Governmental Affairs, David Zoller is responsible for the organization’s governmental relations and advocacy efforts and managing other projects related to economic competitiveness and quality of life.