As states begin to allow businesses to operate in the wake of the coronavirus, it poses a question for employers: How to protect employees?
It’s not just concerns about employee and customer health related to COVID-19, or complying with varying state regulations.
While federal officials have outlined several measures employers can take as they prepare to reopen, some lawmakers are taking extra steps.
Below, we’ll examine proposed legislation in Illinois that looks to protect workers from COVID-19 and unruly customers. (For information on the state reopening its economy, here’s the Restore Illinois plan. Find more information on Employment Law News.)
PPE for Essential Employees
Illinois legislators in May introduced a bill that would require certain employers to provide workers with personal protective equipment (PPE).
If passed, the Illinois Personal Protective Equipment Responsibility Act would apply to essential employers and cover those businesses’ independent contractors. It would go into effect immediately. Also, the language in the House bill ties the PPE requirements to a “disaster proclamation.”
The legislation includes the often-seen 6-foot social distancing guideline, along with specifics on PPE as work conditions require them. That includes:
- Safety glasses
- Face shields
- Earplugs or earmuffs
- Hard hats
- Full-body suits
Business owners and operators would be jointly liable for damages that arise from violations. The bill would also allow employees to seek damages up to three times the amount of actual damages, as well as punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
Retail Workers – Felony for Violence
Meanwhile, lawmakers are also considering a bill that would make violence against retail workers while they are enforcing COVID-19 guidelines a felony.
Not unique to Illinois, there have been reports across the country of confrontations between customers and retail workers looking to enforce regulations — both official and those created by the business. In Minnesota recently, a retail worker who was trying to enforce a mask-wearing rule was allegedly slapped.
The legislation in Illinois seeks to amend existing law to help protect employees by making the battery of a retail worker a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
Like the previous bill discussed, the law (if enacted) would only be in effect during a declared disaster or state of emergency.
The coronavirus has had a profound impact on employers. Shuttering businesses, workers on furlough, people working remotely, sanitizing efforts. And, of course, new legislation.
But as we can see, the new laws in response to COVID-19 aren’t limited to ensuring a healthy workforce and making sure employees have paid leave.
Employers must consider the day-to-day procedures of their workers, the potential for litigation and overall safety in the workplace as the U.S. begins to ease coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses.