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The measure was introduced earlier this year to offer business protection from potential COVID-19 litigation. Opposition groups feel as though the measure could limit responsibility as businesses reopen amid an ongoing pandemic.
As businesses begin to reopen, many companies are introducing measures to ensure public safety amid the pandemic, including limited indoor capacities, mandated mask guidelines, temperature checks, and more. At the same time, a number of employers have been sued by the families of employees who contracted the coronavirus. This risk of coronavirus-related litigation has spurred members of Congress to introduce legislation.
Sen. John Cornyn introduced the Safeguarding America’s Frontline Employees to Offer Work Opportunities Required to Kickstart the Economy (Safe to Work Act on July 27. On Thursday, the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC), announced its support of the legislation, stating that the bill protects businesses from coronavirus-related litigation as companies reopen.
“Liability exposure protections are critically important for responsible business owners as they continue to reopen and restart economic activities,” said Jennifer Taylor, president and CEO of NVTC, in a press release.
“Without targeted protections, there is the potential to hinder America’s economic recovery and require employers to devote scarce resources responding to baseless legal claims rather than investing in needed business operations,” Taylor continued.
SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)
NVTC support and determining principles
The NVTC stated that effective coronavirus liability protection would need to meet a series of principles. This includes the measure being targeted and temporary, providing protection for “responsible businesses” without rewarding “bad actors,” and must “reference duty of care best practices that offer clear guidance to businesses and safeguard customers and employees.”
The council says that it believes the Safe to Work bill is in accordance with these principles.
The Safe to Work Act legislation
The Safe to Work Act states that businesses, schools, universities, nonprofit institutions, and more “confront the risk of a tidal wave of lawsuits” due to accusations that these organizations exposed customers, students, employees, and others to COVID-19. Additionally, the bill makes note of the instances where public health agency guidelines have at times shifted during the pandemic.
This litigation poses a “substantial risk to interstate commerce” threatening the aforementioned organizations from reopening due to “fear of expensive litigation that might prove to be meritless,” reads a portion of the bill.
The bill also points to a “patchwork of local and State rules governing liability” across the US pertaining to COVID-19-related lawsuits, creating “tremendous unpredictability” for all organizations involved in interstate commerce acting as a “significant drag on national recovery.”
SEE: Big data’s role in COVID-19 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Numerous organizations have spoken out against the act. A coalition letter in opposition to the act was signed by a number of organizations including Public Citizen, Human Rights Watch, NAACP, National Workrights Institute, and others. The letter states that potentially being “held liable for harm caused by failure to take reasonable care” exists as “one of the most powerful incentives we have to ensure that businesses operate safely.”