What efforts, if any, should employers be making to protect their employees from Covid-19?
Employers in the United States are required to provide their employees with a workplace that is "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm . . . . " 29 U.S.C. 654 (The OSH Act). That requirement is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA can cite employers for violating their duty.
OSHA has put out guidance for employers to help them prepare for COVID-19. OSHA separates jobs into three categories: (1) low exposure risk jobs, (2) medium exposure risk jobs, and (3) high or very high exposure risk jobs. OSHA provides guidance on steps employers can take to protect their employers in each classification. You can real OSHA's guidance HERE.
In Florida, these matters are likely to be litigated through the workers' compensation system, which is generally the sole remedy for employees injured on the job. The workers' compensation statute creates a no-fault system where the employee's own negligence does not bar recovery and an employer's negligence is not required for recovery. The employee would only be able to recover medical costs and lost wages. Other things such as pain and suffering are not recoverable under the workers' compensation system.
There are a few exceptions that would allow an employee to sue outside of the workers' compensation system such as if the injury was intentionally caused by the employer or if the employer made it a virtual certainty that the injury was to take place due to its gross negligence.
The most likely issue in most of these cases is going to be whether the employee actually got the virus from work. That may be difficult to prove unless many others at the job were infected.
April 5, 2020
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