Puget Sound Business Journal Quotes Tim O’Connell on Importance for Businesses of Complying with Covid-19 Reopening Plans to Minimize Liability Concerns

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Labor and employment attorney Tim O’Connell was quoted in the Puget Sound Business Journal in an article titled “Liability concerns to consider when reopening your business amid Covid-19,” published August 20, 2020. (Subscription required.) The article discusses ways that employers can protect themselves from liability if they are faced with a lawsuit when an employee contracts Covid-19.

In general, workers can only file a worker’s compensation claim for a deliberate injury, but lawsuits have been filed against employers outside worker’s compensation by employees who have become sick with Covid-19.

The most important thing an employer can do to protect itself is to ensure that safety regulations set within its industry are included in its reopening plan. “Any failure to comply with the governor’s phased reopening plan will constitute a violation of our state health and safety laws,” O’Connell said.

Reopening plans should be in posted in writing well in advance of when a business reopens, and employees should have read and acknowledged them. However, legal experts believe having employees sign waivers to remove liability is a step too far.

“If you’ve asked your employees to sign a waiver to come back to work and then someone turns around and files a claim with L&I [Washington State Department of Labor and Industries] ... L&I is not only going to not be dissuaded by that waiver, they are going to consider that waiver evidence that you had knowledge of your obligations and you were preparing to not comply,” O’Connell said. “The fact that you asked for this ineffective waiver will be held against you.”

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