House GOP bill would block lawsuits by workers sickened with virus 

A forthcoming House GOP bill would bar workers who fall ill with coronavirus from suing their employers, so long as the company complies with state and federal law as it reopens for business amid loosening health restrictions.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerDemocrats go big on diversity with new House recruits Congress rightfully rejects dangerous effort to cut defense budget by 10 percent Desiree Tims outraises longtime GOP Rep. Michael Turner by more than 0K in second quarter MORE (R-Ohio), said legislation he will introduce this week would give complying business immunity from civil suits brought by employees who contract coronavirus after returning to the workplace.

“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.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The issue of legal protections for companies has emerged as a politically divisive debate that has led to intense lobbying as Congress considers more legislation to revive the faltering economy.

Top Republican lawmakers, the Trump administration and the U.S. business community are strongly in favor, while Democrats, labor unions and trial attorneys have voiced fierce opposition to a liability shield for employers. 

Democrats previously agreed to limit the legal liability of manufacturers of certain protective equipment in an earlier coronavirus relief package. But Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Top Democrats say postmaster confirmed changes to mail service amid delays MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Trump backs plan to give airlines another billion in aid MORE (D-N.Y.) have since pushed back on additional measures, saying they could leave workers vulnerable.

“At the time of this coronavirus challenge, especially now, we have every reason to protect our workers and our patients in all of this,” Pelosi said last Wednesday. “So we would not be inclined to be supporting any immunity from liability.”

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day MORE (R-Ky.) has said the Republican-led Senate won’t provide additional state and local government funding without additional legal protections.

It’s unclear how Turner’s bill would affect state tort laws, which provide remedies for civil wrongs and injuries. While Congress could in theory override state laws to offer a nationwide safe harbor from liability, analysts say such assurances would almost certainly fail to pass Congress.

Turner’s proposal would also give employees the option to quit jobs they deemed unsafe while remaining eligible for unemployment benefits.