With millions of workers returning to their jobs amid a still-raging coronavirus pandemic, the top Republican priority for the next big coronavirus bill is preventing them from suing their employers if they get sick.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday that his “number one” policy for a bill sometime this month is to block “an epidemic of lawsuits” against businesses, schools and health care providers from employees, customers, students and patients.
“Unless you were grossly negligent or intentionally engaging in harmful conduct, you should be protected from liability during this process,” McConnell said at an event in Kentucky, claiming there has been a surge of lawsuits relating to the pandemic.
“There’s an army of trial lawyers out there ready to take advantage of the situation,” McConnel said. “We cannot get back to normal if we have an epidemic of lawsuits.”
McConnell’s push to shield businesses from liability claims comes as Congress debates whether to continue expanded unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of the month, setting up a deadline for the next major piece of legislation ― and a huge contrast between Democratic and Republican priorities. Democrats and labor groups are particularly worried what a liability shield could mean for workers facing dangerous conditions.
So far, the Trump administration has pretty much left it to employers to police themselves during the pandemic; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued only one coronavirus-related citation against an employer. Giving employers broad immunity in courts would make it even harder for employees to hold companies to account for flouting safety and social-distancing guidelines.
Labor groups and lawyers warned that blocking lawsuits would prevent workers from bringing dangerous conditions to light at a time of unprecedented workplace hazards.
“We’re talking about people who have experienced...