Striking a reasonable balance

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters following a meeting with a select group of Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats and Trump administration officials in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/Tribune News Service

The following editorial appeared in the Seattle Times on May 11:

SEATTLE (Tribune News Service) — As states slowly emerge from stay-home orders, most discussion has rightly focused on physical safeguards for workers, customers and broader communities from COVID-19.

But responsible loosening of the public health-related shutdown must also involve setting reasonable limits to liability for companies that have taken recommended precautions and acted in good faith.

No one can guarantee that coronavirus transmissions won’t increase — or even spike — with the slow resumption of commercial activity. Even a cautious reopening involves a certain degree of risk. Employers who follow all guidelines to protect employees and the public should have legal assurance that they will not be unreasonably penalized if that happens, or for making necessary changes to business operations to safeguard public health.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has vowed that no further coronavirus relief bill will see the light of day in his chamber unless it includes liability shields for businesses and employers. House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have expressed little interest, saying the focus should be on workers’ rights.

With congressional talks reportedly stalled, business owners are put in a difficult position.

Clearly, health and safety of workers, patients and the public must be a top priority, as is a recognition that these extraordinary times place extraordinary burdens on employers and commercial enterprises. Liability shields should not protect bad actors who knowingly violate state or federal guidelines, such as the Colorado restaurant which reportedly allowed customers to sit elbow to elbow on Mothers Day. Rather, they should protect those who act in good faith to protect customers, vendors and employees from harm when much is still unknown.

Beyond the obvious question of safe workplace requirements, several categories of potential liability have been flagged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It warns employers could face potential claims of discrimination or violation of health privacy law when reopen plans involve testing, temperature checks or special precautions for at-risk employees. Businesses that extend public health precautions and provide protective equipment to independent contractors risk violating contracting agreements. Manufacturers that step up to produce essential products and equipment to test, treat and protect against the virus face potential product liability claims.

There is the thorny issue of medical liability for health care facilities and providers and lesser-known regulatory requirements such as limitations on customer communications.

Make no mistake, employers have a strong responsibility to protect their workers and customers. But liability should be limited if they take reasonable precautions and are transparent about potential risks.

Visit the Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency. © 2020 Seattle Times.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(8) comments

keyser soze

We have reached a tipping point as a nation. For too long, this "experiment" that is America has come to mean a place where all is compliant to the economy: the US is not a political entity, it is an economic system to facilitate and maximize profit making by plutocrats.

All political decisions are first weighed for their effect on the corporate state whose worth, of course, is owned and controlled by an oligarchy. This profound perversion of our country's founding principles, freedom for "the people," has come about gradually, but thoroughly. Covid-19 has laid this bare.

It is all but accepted that we can afford to bail out (once again!) the corporate sectors, but we cannot afford health care measures to protect the overwhelming majority of Americans that are at risk. We cannot afford to test them, provide them with safety gear--- or even ensure that those who treat them have those basic protections that are provided to people in all our peer nations.

Now, our citizens are told those protections may not even be important. What IS important is that Americans return to work and accept that they will be sacrificed upon the altar of profit.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for the infected soul of a nation.

Holmes -- the real one

Rap on brother, rap on !

Holmes -- the real one

The Temptations - Ball of Confusion

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9poCAuYT-s

zeitgeist

I like what you wrote, keyser soze. I, too, am concerned about the infected soul of our nation.

zeitgeist

Among the fans for shielding employers and businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits are Pres. Trump, economic adviser Larry Kudlow, Senators McConnell and Graham, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (I assume north country chambers are members), the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, etc. They and their lobbyists played a hand in shrinking the CDC's recently released, comprehensive and meticulously formulated 17-page recommendations for opening businesses of all kinds to 5 pages of broad, common sense, gibberish. Then, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others released statements to the effect that they support protecting companies and employers from liability as along as they abide by CDC and state guidelines. States were looking to the CDC for guidelines! So, now, both the CDC and state guidelines basically consist of gibberish which is exactly what politicians and entities interested in shielding employers and businesses from liability wanted. As long as employers and businesses meet gibberish-recommendations, they are protected, leaving workers, customers and the public endangered, vulnerable and defenseless.

The thinking is unconscionable. How these politicians and entities missed the boat on the nationwide consciousness-raising that occurred during the COVID crisis with regard to workers, customers and the public-- acute awareness of their needs, risks, problems, pay, rights, etc.-- is baffling and shameful.

It's important we have clear and comprehensive recommendations pertaining to the re-opening of businesses. They are imperative if COVID liability protections are to strike a reasonable balance.

Holmes -- the real one

Well said, zeitgeist. I totally agree.

Holmes

China was the ultimate source: more specifically a bio lab in Wuhan. But I guess any excuse to protect the Dems' Chinese paymaster.

Holmes -- the real one

In this country we have this expression, "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride" although for your handlers it's more like "Always a conspiracy theory, never the truth."

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