As states begin to ease restrictions and law firms are returning to offices, many are concerned about the safety and welfare of the staff. At the same time, firms also want to be aware of the potential lawsuits that could stem from a COVID-19 diagnosis of one of their employees.
In order to limit liability for COVID-19 related lawsuits and claims, law firms should look to a number of previous court decisions, as well as federal and state rules, in order to best minimize the potential.
Should an employee get sick, employers may be able to tap into their state’s workers’ compensation remedies. There is substantial case law that exists involving communicable diseases, under which COVID-19 falls, where workplace exposure results in the ability to utilize workers’ compensation.
Law firms should pay strict attention to federal, state and local guidelines regarding social distancing and emergency or stay-at-home orders, including OSHA and CDC guidelines. It’s critical to comply with every aspect of these in order to ensure you have done everything possible to adequately protect your employees.
Employers are also suggested to take additional protective measures where possible, including:
- Adequate cleaning supplies and plan for increased sterilization of surfaces
- Providing adequate personal protective equipment
- Installing sneeze guards and barriers at points of customer interaction, such as the receptionist area
- Limiting the number of individuals allowed inside the office and focusing on virtual consultations and client meetings where possible
- Developing a clear process for employees to report COVID-19 symptoms
During a pandemic, employers can ask if their employees are experiencing COVID symptoms, something that is typically prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Law firms may also screen employees as they enter the workplace, but should be sure to only ask about symptoms that have been identified in the CDC guidelines.
The overall plan for law firms should be to limit the exposure of their employees while following all legal and government organization rules, orders and guidelines. A proactive approach will be helpful in reducing potential liability and will show the firm took adequate steps to create a safe workplace for its employees.