Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed legislation Monday that gives Utah businesses protection from litigation stemming from an individual contracting coronavirus on their property, as the state begins to allow some of its businesses to reopen amid the global pandemic.
Under the law, business owners are "immune from civil liability for damages or an injury resulting from exposure of an individual to COVID-19," that happens at their premises. The legislation does not protect businesses, however, if they display "willful misconduct; reckless infliction of harm; or intentional infliction of harm."
While the bill passed both of the state's chambers, it wasn't without its critics.
“It sends precisely the wrong message to businesses and to landlords and to people out there who should be concerned that they do everything they can that’s reasonable to protect their customers and protect their employees,” House Minority Leader Brian King (D) told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Herbert's move Monday comes after he announced on April 30 that Utah would be put under "moderate risk" protocols beginning May. The executive order allowed businesses such as salons and salons to reopen under strict social distancing guidelines. Restaurants were given the green light to resume offering dine-in options, given that they use "extreme precautions."
Utah isn't the first state to grant this kind of protection to certain establishments. ABC News reported that at least 15 states, either through executive order or legislation, have given legal protection to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
At a national level, Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerGOP hopefuls fight for Trump's favor in Ohio Senate race Overnight Defense: JEDI axed | Pentagon defends Bagram exit | Military justice reform coming soon Military braces for sea change on justice reform MORE (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that he would introduce a bill this week that would give businesses that comply with social distancing and other safety guidelines immunity from civil suits against employees who contract the virus after returning to work.
“Many businesses are concerned about reopening due to the risk associated with being held liable if one of their employees contracts coronavirus after coming back to work,” Turner said in a statement. “This bill is proactive and seeks to protect complying businesses and employees as we begin to restart the economy.”
Manufacturers of certain protective equipment were granted this kind of legal immunity through one of Congress' earlier coronavirus stimulus bills, but Democratic leadership has pushed back on the idea of expanding the protection to businesses, saying that it could hurt workers.
“At the time of this coronavirus challenge, especially now, we have every reason to protect our workers and our patients in all of this,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Jan. 6 committee taps former Bush administration official as top lawyer Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan MORE (D-Calif.) said last Wednesday. “So we would not be inclined to be supporting any immunity from liability.”
The issue has become a bargaining chip for additional aid for state and local governments that has been pushed for by Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse to act on debt ceiling next week White House warns GOP of serious consequences on debt ceiling Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE (R-Ky.) has signaled that such protections would need to be granted to businesses before the Republican-controlled Senate would pass more funding for states and local municipalities.
Notably, Turner's proposal would give employees the ability to quit their job if they believe it to be unsafe while remaining eligible for unemployment benefits.
Many employees, especially in the service industry, have expressed safety concerns surrounding returning to work in states that have begun to reopen their economies. Several states, including Texas and Iowa, have said that an employee's refusal to return to work will be viewed as a "voluntary quit," making them ineligible for unemployment. Under the CARES Act, fear of contracting COVID-19 is not one of the exceptions that prevent an employee from losing their unemployment benefits.