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How Relaxation of Regulations Will Affect Employer Liability

The ripples caused by COVID-19 are spreading rapidly across the country. Many of these have gone unnoticed as people focus on their health, finances, and family. Among the most concerning are relaxations on longstanding regulations implemented to protect workers from serious harm at work. In an attempt to help businesses stay open during this crisis, OSHA has relaxed many restrictions and limitations. Should an employee suffer an injury during this time, it could complicate claims for employer liability.

Justification for the Relaxing of Restrictions and Oversight

OSHA has argued that the current COVID-19 pandemic will reduce the availability of trainers, consultants, contractors, auditors, and inspectors. While possible, it means that safety inspections, equipment inspections, monitoring of industrial hygiene practices, medical testing, etc. are being ignored right now. While it’s not quite the Wild West, OSHA and other federal agencies are relaxing everything from equipment safety inspections to hours of service regulations for truck drivers in order to keep essential businesses open and stocked with supplies.

What OSHA’s Notice Means for Employees

OSHA is operating under the directives of the Secretary of Labor and the President. This means that employers must make a “good faith effort” to comply with existing regulations and safety requirements. Compliance Safety and Health Officers will evaluate the employer’s efforts and determine whether or not they negligently exposed employees to hazards, tasks, equipment, and processes during this extraordinary period. When the crisis ends, the employer is required to demonstrate a “good faith attempt” to reestablish compliance.

Potential Challenges for Compensation Claims

Employer liability for injuries and deaths suffered during this national emergency, particularly those caused by COVID-19 pandemic, is something the courts will have to decide as the crisis abates and businesses begin to reopen. For now, it stands that employers are still liable for the accidents and injuries caused by negligence in the workplace. No doubt, some employers may argue that they were not required to comply with regulations that caused an accident during this time. However, the existing body of case law and regulatory guidance should provide sufficient protection for workers who are injured in work-related accidents during this time.

Contact Sloat, Nicholson, & Hoover, P.C. at (303) 447-1144 for more information about employer liability in Colorado. We will answer your questions and help you determine the most effective methods for pursuing your claim.

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