Earlier this week, Governor DeWine signed into law a bill that gives, among others, Ohio employers legal protections related to their efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. The governor and the legislature (both in Ohio and in many other states) have both acknowledged the burden of employers when navigating the issue surrounding COVID-19 including trying to operate/reopen their businesses while also attempting to limit legal exposure and liability. In short, this law gives state-law immunity from civil lawsuits for “injury, death, or loss” related to “the transmission or contraction” of COVID-19. The law is limited to civil lawsuits and does not give immunity from other formal or informal inquiries resulting in citations or fines from governmental agencies including OSHA. OSHA has been particularly active lately in the area of COVID-related safety concerns and this law has no effect whatsoever on pending or future OSHA inquiries.
The law very specifically provides that public health orders issued by the executive branch of the Ohio state government, including the many orders issued by the governor and the Ohio Department of Health since March, in addition to the orders issued by other agencies at the local, state and federal level did not and do not create new legal duties for employers. The law, while signed into law earlier this week on September 14, 2020, is retroactive to the date of the declared state of emergency in Ohio – March 9, 2020. It is scheduled to sunset, or expire, on September 30, 2021.
This long-awaited bill limits legal exposure to Ohio employers. However, employers should be aware that while helpful, this is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Liability can still be found for actions taken or not taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, absent a showing of reckless, intentional, or willful misconduct, it would seem that employers would not be liable to employees (nor businesses to its customers or others) for actions or omissions resulting in the exposure to, or transmission or contraction of, COVID-19. The law is expansive and extends protections to all Ohio entities, including K-12 schools, nonprofit and for-profit entities of any size, governmental entities, churches, colleges, and universities. In addition, the law prohibits class actions based on allegations that an employer or business caused “exposure to or the transmission or contraction of” COVID-19.
If you have any questions regarding the new law and its effect on your business and its employees, or any other COVID-19 related challenge, please contact Attorney Michael J. Bogdan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or any other member of the Labor and Employment or Litigation Sections at Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty.
NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.