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Published in Economic Development

State legislation seeks COVID-19 liability protections for employers

BY Monday, July 27, 2020 05:47am

A state lawmaker from Kent County has proposed legislation that would give businesses protection from legal liabilities if they follow state and federal requirements for COVID-19.

The three-bill package — HB 6030-6032 — introduced on Thursday would grant liability protection from lawsuits “as long as the employer and the employee are doing everything in their power to adhere to (state and federal) guidelines,” said Rep. Tom Albert, R-Grattan Township, the lead sponsor of HB 6030.

Rep. Tom Albert COURTESY PHTO

“We want to make sure there’s no frivolous lawsuits,” Albert said. “What we have is a very uncertain time and we wanted to give people some certainty so employees know what’s expected of them to make sure they have a healthy work environment, and also make sure that employees know they are protected as well.”

Albert had the bills, which have dozens of co-sponsors, drafted after hearing from business owners worried they could face a glut of lawsuits from someone claiming they were exposed to the coronavirus at their business.

Albert’s legislation would exempt from legal liability businesses that are “in substantial compliance with or (operate) reasonably consistent” with requirements, “unless it is shown by clear and convincing evidence that the injuries were caused by a reckless disregard of a substantial and unnecessary risk that an individual would be exposed to COVID-19, or the person engaged in a deliberate act intended to cause harm,” according to the bill language.

The legislation would not provide legal liability protections for businesses from a claim “that arises from exposure of an individual to COVID-19 on premises owned, leased, managed, or operated by a person, or during an activity managed by a person, unless it is shown by clear and convincing evidence that the injuries were caused by a reckless disregard of a substantial and unnecessary risk that an individual would be exposed to COVID-19, or the person engaged in a deliberate act intended to cause harm.”

“If somebody’s grossly negligent, they’re not going to be protected,” Albert said.

The bills are pending in the House Judiciary Committee. Albert hopes they can move to a legislative hearing yet this summer. Similar legislation is pending at the federal level.

Securing liability protections for businesses navigating and recovering from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a top priority for business advocates at both the state and federal levels.

The Small Business Association of Michigan included liability protections among a series of state and federal public policy recommendations by a COVID-19 task force.

The SBAM proposal urges liability protection for businesses and their employees “who make the real effort to follow all of the rules that are given for them,” said SBAM President Brian Calley. 

Liability protection for business and employees “would go a long way to providing a level of certainty” as employers recover from the pandemic, he added.

“There was not an expectation that there should be some sort of blanket protection,” Calley said. “We think that a measured, fair scenario where you are considering the rights of employees alongside protection for small businesses makes a lot of sense.” 

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