Times have never been tougher for many workers across the country. Years of neglect or outright hostility from legislators and lobbyists have left employees vulnerable to companies that only care about the bottom line.
The COVID-19 pandemic led many businesses to shut their doors, for a time. As the economic pressure grew, so did the temptation to prioritize money over national health and worker safety. Many are now open or opening, regardless of whether they have any plan to protect their workers from infection.
Workers’ Compensation Or Bust
Generally speaking, the workers’ compensation system is the only game in town for workers who get injured or become sick due to their employment. Employers are shielded from personal injury lawsuits that would normally result from negligent decisions and practices. Workers’ compensation laws are not particularly helpful when it comes to an illness like COVID-19.
Employers are liable for a worker’s infection when the worker can prove two things. First, workers must prove that the job increased the risk of infection over that of the general public. This is often not a difficult hurdle to clear. Second, the worker must show that she contracted the illness in the course of her employment. For an infection as communicable as COVID-19, that can be nearly impossible to prove.
Good News, Bad News
Workers’ compensation laws might exclude many employees from gaining access to the system if they become infected. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if they are not eligible for workers’ compensation, the employer loses its immunity from personal injury lawsuits.
Employers that behave negligently, exposing their workers to an unreasonable risk of infection, open themselves up to be sued. That is one of the reasons why Republican leaders are refusing to fund a second stimulus bill. They want employers to be protected from COVID-19 lawsuits. They want workers to take on all the risk, while receiving their typically small portion of the reward. Basically, they are willing to hold the economy hostage for the freedom to endanger their workers’ lives with impunity.