As states begin to reopen, the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak hangs heavy over businesses. To mitigate the risk, businesses are focusing on policies and procedures that can prevent the spread of infection. Some are also embracing another approach: COVOD-19 liability waivers.
Asking Workers to Sign Waivers
Many businesses have been struggling with lost revenues. That makes this an especially bad time for a surge in lawsuits, but that’s exactly what many people fear is coming.
This fear has prompted some businesses to take steps to prevent lawsuits, including liability waivers. In one example, Nacho Daddy, a restaurant in Las Vegas, announced that it would have workers sign a waiver that absolves the company of liability if a worker gets sick with COVID-19.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal questioned a business attorney about the waiver, and she raised doubts about the waiver’s enforceability. If workers got sick, the claims would probably fall under workers’ compensation, and said she didn’t think a business could have its workers waive workers’ compensation rights. Additionally, a waiver might not be enforceable if the workers could argue that they had to sign the waiver to keep their jobs and therefore did not sign it voluntarily.
According to FOX 13, two workers say they were fired after they refused to sign the waiver. KTNV Las Vegas reports that the company removed the waiver from its employee documents after receiving pushback on the policy.
Nacho Daddy isn’t the only business to use liability waivers to stem COVID-19 risks, however.
Asking Customers to Sign Waivers
While Nacho Daddy had workers sign liability waivers, other companies are asking customers to sign on the dotted line.
According to Insurance Journal, salons, gyms and other businesses have been asking customers to sign waivers that release them from liability. Other companies have put up notices on their website or posted signs warning of the risk.
However, experts say that these measures would not necessarily prevent lawsuits.
According to The Fashion Law, carefully drafted waivers may help prevent at least some types of lawsuits, such as those from customers and contractors. However, businesses must still take steps to prevent infection and to comply with government requirements.
Limiting Liability While Reopening
In the end, there’s no silver bullet for avoiding risks related to COVID-19. Businesses must juggle multiple issues as they reopen.
- If waivers are used, they should be drafted carefully and reviewed by legal experts.
- Businesses should be aware that waivers may not prevent all claims, such as workers’ compensation claims and lawsuits alleging gross negligence.
- When making reopening decisions, businesses should comply with state and local orders as well as CDC and OSHA guidelines.
- Businesses should not open until they can do so safely. According to a statement from the National Safety Council, “Business owners should reopen when they’re ready—not necessarily because they can.” Specifically, businesses should be able to test employees, conduct thorough tracing and provide return-to-work strategies that include mental health support.
If you have any risk management questions, please reach out to your BNC Insurance agent.