Should Business Owners Implement COVID-19 Liability Waivers?
As Michigan continues to reopen, most business owners are searching for ways to limit liability should COVID-19 spread throughout the workplace. Employer liability waivers have historically been implemented to release business owners from liabilities related to workplace hazards, so it would seem this may be a tool to utilize now that we are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. So, should business owners implement COVID-19 liability waivers?
What is a liability waiver?
A liability waiver (hold harmless agreement) is a legal document a person signs to acknowledge the risks involved with participation in any activity. Employers use liability waivers to release the business from liability that occurred because of an accident, injury, or other damage the employee suffered while engaged in an employer-sponsored activity or while using employer-provided equipment or facilities.
For many people, it seems logical that requiring employees to sign a COVID-19 liability waiver is the ideal way to protect the business against litigation. However, most employment law and business attorneys feel employer liability waivers are best suited for other workplace hazards and not COVID-19.
Below are the reasons employers should avoid COVID-19 liability waivers:
- The chance a skeptical judge will allow a COVID-19 liability waiver remains slim, although no court has yet taken up the question if a liability waiver is enforceable.
- An attorney working on behalf of a worker may attempt to use a COVID-19 liability waiver to argue that employers are neglecting their duty to provide a safe workplace.
- Workers’ compensation laws provide compensation for occupational disease or injury that arises from the course of employment. Employees cannot waive workers’ compensation rights, even by signing liability waivers.
- No waiver can replace the need to maintain a safe workplace.
- Requiring employees to sign a COVID-19 liability waiver may hurt morale.
- Employees may resign if forced to sign a coronavirus liability waiver.
- Firing an employee who refuses to sign a COVID-19 liability waiver may lead to an unfair termination claim.
- Implementing a coronavirus liability waiver may result in unfavorable publicity for the business.
- Liability waivers do not prevent lawsuits. They are defense tools that could help defeat the claim, but they will not stop lawsuits from moving forward.
Instead of implementing COVID-19 liability waivers it may be better policy to limit your business’s liability by following State of Michigan and CDC guidelines and implementing a COVID-19 Work Safety and Readiness Plan to put policies and procedures in place to provide a safe workplace as best you can.