Can Employers Be Liable For COVID-19 Transmission In The Workplace?

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely altered the way of life for most people across the country and here in Illinois. This is particularly true for the workforce. In many cases, people have lost their jobs due to the health crisis. However, essential workers continued to go to work during the initial stages of this pandemic. Now, as the economy begins to reopen, more and more people are returning to the workplace, even as COVID-19 continues to affect thousands of people each day across the country. It is important to understand what liability, if any, employers in Illinois have concerning COVID-19.

At Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, our Chicago workers’ compensation attorneys have extensive experience handling employee injury and illness cases. Our knowledgeable team is staying on top of the continually changing laws regarding workers’ compensation and employer liability concerning COVID-19, and we will apply them to your case accordingly. If you have any questions regarding your workers’ compensation claim and a COVID-19 illness, do not hesitate to contact us as soon as possible.

Employee getting COVID-19 in the workplace

Is my employer liable if I contract COVID-19 in the workplace?

Determining whether or not an employer is liable for a worker contracting COVID-19 is a subject of continual debate both in Illinois and throughout the country. Workers need to know whether or not they will have protection in the event they contract the virus in the workplace. Conversely, employers are concerned that they will be held liable if any of their workers contract the disease.

As of this writing, there is no clear answer about whether or not an employer can be held liable if a worker contracts COVID-19. At the federal level, various lawmakers have wanted to shield employers from liability should a worker contract the virus. Other lawmakers have pushed back on these measures.

If we look at executive orders that required meat processing plants to stay open around the country early in the pandemic, we can see that the US Department of Labor said it would consider backing employers in litigation, so long as they made good faith attempts to comply with federal safety guidelines issued for their industry to prevent workers from contracting COVID-19.

The US Chamber of Commerce is also advocating for employer protections against lawsuits. They argue that any employer that follows safety guidelines put forth by local and federal governments should not be held liable if a worker contracts COVID-19.

Receiving workers compensation for COVID-19 in Illinois

Illinois was the first state in the country to change its workers’ compensation laws to presume that workers contracted COVID-19 on the job if they were deemed an essential worker during the state’s stay at home orders. This made it easier for healthcare workers, bank employees, grocery store workers, and more to get coverage for their medical bills, lost wages, and long-term disability benefits if they contracted COVID-19.

However, business groups were concerned about the additional costs related to these claims and filed a lawsuit, essentially halting the presumption. One of the major concerns about COVID-19 and workers’ compensation is the ability to prove whether or not the worker contracted the virus in the workplace. Typically, illnesses that are widespread throughout the general public (such as influenza) are not eligible for workers’ compensation because it is hard to prove that the illness arose out of the scope of the employee’s duties.

Recently filed lawsuits in Illinois due to COVID-19 exposure

Wando Evans was an employee at a Walmart supercenter and Evergreen Park, Illinois. Unfortunately, Mr. Evans died on March 25, 2020, due to complications of COVID-19. Mr. Evans’ estate filed a lawsuit against Walmart and the premises owner for wrongful death. Their complaint alleges that at least one other employee at the same Walmart location died four days after Mr. Evans. The complaint also alleges that management at this Walmart knew that “several other employees” also exhibited signs of COVID-19 prior to the deaths of both workers.

The plaintiff in this case, Mr. Evans’ estate, charges that Walmart acted negligently and willfully by:

  • Ignoring employees who notified management of their COVID-19 symptoms and allowing them to continue working.
  • Not properly disinfecting the store or providing employees with proper personal protective equipment.
  • Not implementing or enforcing state or federal social distancing guidelines.
  • Failing to evaluate employees for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

The lawsuit also takes aim at the owner of the shopping center for failing to close the Walmart supercenter and adjacent businesses that are known to have a high volume of pedestrian traffic.

Steps that employers should take to protect workers

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has created a set of guidelines to help employers prepare their workplaces in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Amongst the guidelines are recommendations that employers:

  • Develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan
  • Prepare an implement basic infection prevention measures
  • Develop policies and procedures to quickly identify and isolate sick people
  • Develop and implement workplace flexibility’s and protections

Employers are allowed to check workers’ temperatures before they start their shift. They should also provide proper personal protective equipment (PPE) depending on the type of work environment that the employee will be operating in.

What to do if your employer was acting negligently

If you or somebody you care about has contracted COVID-19, and you believe did the illness arose due to your workplace activities, you may need to speak and look to hire and workers compensation attorney as soon as possible. At Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, our qualified team has extensive experience handling workers’ compensation cases in Illinois. We continually follow the ever-changing laws regarding COVID-19 and employer liability.

If you believe that your employer’s negligence is the reason that you contracted COVID-19, we are ready to discuss your case. You can contact us online or by calling our Chicago office at (312) 372-8822