COVID negligence claims are still a risk: 4 steps to prevent pandemic lawsuits.

Since March 2020, employees have filed more than 5,100 lawsuits against employers alleging labor and employment violations related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to an ongoing tally by the Littler Mendelson law firm.

These cases run the gamut from discrimination to retaliation to pay-related claims (see box at right). More than 570 cases are class-action lawsuits.

Now there's a new wrinkle to worry about. In what appears to be an emerging litigation trend, employees are arguing that their employers' negligence caused them to become infected and then bring the disease home to sicken and kill a family member.

Example: A California appeals court ruled recently that See's Candies must face a lawsuit by an employee who says she caught COVID at a company factory with poor safety controls and gave it to her 72-year-old husband, resulting in his death.

The court said this employer wasn't shielded from the lawsuit by workers' comp. If more courts rule this way, employers could be facing big risks from such "take home" COVID lawsuits.

Even after OSHA's proposed vaccine-or-test mandate was shot down by the Supreme Court, OSHA is reminding employers that its General Duty Clause still requires employers to provide a work environment "free from recognized hazards." That means it's important for employers to continue to take every precaution to keep the virus from spreading in their workplaces.

Here are four tips to avoid today's COVID lawsuits, according to attorney Sharon Caffrey, who heads the COVID task force for the Duane Morris law firm in Philadelphia.

  1. Require employees to be vaccinated and prove their vaccine status. Scan employees' vaccination cards; maintain them as confidential medical records. Even though the Supreme Court killed the federal private-sector mandate, courts have repeatedly said that individual employers are free to require employees to be vaccinated.

  2. Comply with all local and state safety orders regarding required face coverings, vaccines, social distancing and physical safety measures (such as barriers between work stations) that help limit the spread of the virus...

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