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Oklahoma law offers shield against COVID-19 lawsuits

published in McAfee & Taft EmployerLINC | May 28, 2020

Concerns that clients, customers or business associates could sue them over claims they were exposed to COVID-19 have made some businesses reluctant to reopen.  We have already seen lawsuits filed against retail stores and restaurants from patrons who allege they were injured by exposure to the coronavirus while at those places of business. Congress has taken note of these liability concerns and is considering whether to pass a law that would protect businesses against such claims.  In the meantime, Oklahoma has beat them to the punch – but there are some requirements that must be met to gain protection of the new law.

On May 21, 2020, Oklahoma Governor Stitt signed into law Senate Bill 1946, which offers business operators a shield from certain claims of civil liability related to alleged exposure or potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus. In order to gain protection from this law, which went into effect immediately, an individual or business must establish they were in compliance with recognized COVID-19  standards at the time of the alleged exposure. When it comes to reopening and operating a business, the individual or business bears the burden of demonstrating that they were following written guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational  Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Labor, Oklahoma’s Department of Health, Oklahoma’s Department of Commerce, or any other state agency, board or commission.

Although it is not expressly addressed, don’t count on the new law preventing workers’ compensation claims by employees contending they were exposed to and contracted the virus while working.

To gain the protection offered by the new law, here are some recommendations:

  1. Put in place COVID-19 return to work and resumption of operation policies that address such things as employee health assessments and monitoring, availability of PPE (masks  and gloves), social distancing, personal hygiene, and cleaning protocols. Your policies should track the guidelines issued by the health and governmental authorities listed in the Oklahoma law.
  2. Train the workforce on your COVID-19 policies and protocols and emphasize their importance.
  3. Make sure your business and its employees are complying with the policies on an ongoing basis. If you discover noncompliance, address it immediately and get back on track.

For more information or guidance about resuming operations and returning employees to work, contact your McAfee & Taft employment lawyer or click here for information on McAfee & Taft’s COVID-19 Return to Work Package for Employers.