12 Ways Your Company Can Get Sued During a Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised several concerns about compliance with the workplace — which can lead to legal action if employers do not comply with evolving compensation and overtime regulations, leave of absence, remote arrangements, and bias prevention.
“Many of the discrimination lawsuits look like typical workplace disputes with a COVID-19 twist,” said Melissa Camire, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in New York City.
How to mitigate risk for a potential COVID-19-related lawsuit:
- Staying up-to-date with the governor’s orders and federal recommendations on health standards: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides general safety guides for businesses.
- Communicating thoughtfully with customers and employees: This could begin with signage upon arrival, informing customers of any different policies that your business has put into place during the pandemic. Employees should also know the reasons for these policies and be able to articulate them.
- Informing employees of their rights: Workers are eligible for up to two weeks of paid leave for virus-related reasons under a federal stimulus program. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a workplace poster on the law.
- Maintaining social distancing plans, even if they are not required: Social distancing has become the norm, so even if your place of business has ample spacing, realize that customers may be more comfortable if they see active efforts to keep physical distances.
- Training employees and supervisors: Ensure everyone knows what is expected of them so that they and their customers are safe, whether it is washing hands frequently or not congregating in a break room.
- Keeping detailed checklists and records: This will help establish routines to maintain a workplace safe and clean.
- Monitoring to assure the rules are being enforced: If you are sued, documentation will be important to show that you adhered to safety requirements.
- Exploring testing options, especially in high-risk businesses: This added step shows your employees and customers that you are concerned about them and serious about keeping them safe.
- Being proactive if a lawsuit might be filed: Filing the first report of injury with Workers’ Compensation Insurance if an employee gets sick and the business owner thinks it may be from work.
- Educating themselves about the rights of employees: Be aware that there may be legal protections for employees who cannot come to work because they have children at home, or they or loved one has COVID-19 or symptoms of the disease.
- Knowing the details of government requirements: For example, the U.S. Small Business Administration has a detailed guide to the Paycheck Protection Program, including all-important loan forgiveness provisions that kick in if at least 75% of funds are used for payroll costs if the rest is used on a mortgage, rent or utilities.
- Knowing when to hold back: Take a conservative approach when in doubt.
Seek innovative ways to motivate employees to speak to leadership and give them more chances to be heard so that they don’t go outside the company to address their complaints.
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