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 Turner (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.”
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 Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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 McConnell (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.
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