Fearing liability, some organizations are asking (or requiring) staff to sign away the right to bring any COVID-related claims if they get the virus at work. But it may not work—or may be more trouble than it’s worth. Why? State laws. Some states won’t honor liability waivers. For example, New York courts have said employers cannot limit future negligence by contract. Workers’ comp laws. Waivers can’t limit workers’ compensation claims. If people are infected at work and can prove it, no agreement bars a claim.
Recent lawsuits claim workers brought COVID home and infected family members. An employee waiver has no impact on family-member claims.
Employees cannot waive the right to file a complaint with OSHA or another safety agency. Waivers do not prevent such agencies (or the EEOC) from pursuing cases against employers.
Some states already passed laws protecting employers from COVID liability if they follow reasonable safety standards. Waivers would add no protection.
Employers may be better served by staying up to date on the latest safety standards. The best legal defense is proof you’ve taken worker safety seriously.
Source: HR Employment Specialist Vol. 51, No. 4 | April 2021