Some WV lawmakers want liability protections for small businesses

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — The first lawsuits against employers were recently filed in California, alleging essential workers contracted COVID-19 while on the job.

As cases continue to rise, some are proposing liability protections for businesses to spare them from potential lawsuits.

“There are probably two ways to look at this; one is from the employer’s perspective or the business, the other is from the employee’s perspective,” said Charleston attorney John McGhee.

McGhee says the federal government has stepped in with an additional two weeks of sick leave, as well as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which gives an additional 10 weeks of leave for COVID-19 related leave, but there are still a lot of inconsistencies.

“Government has been inconsistent up to this point, there’s not a federal standard, different states are taking different approaches so oftentimes employers are left to their own devices to try to figure out what is appropriate,” he said.

If shield laws were in place McGhee says businesses couldn’t be sued, or they’d have to be proven grossly negligent or intentionally wrong to get sued.

Republican lawmakers in West Virginia say they have enough votes in the legislature to pass a bill that would pass these liability protections for churches, small businesses, and universities, they are just waiting on West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice to call a special session.

Yet, so far, Gov. Jim Justice has expressed no interest in having one.

Del. Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, is one lawmaker pushing for liability protections.

“You’ve got so many churches that are afraid to open up in West Virginia because they’re afraid they’re going to get sued, I’ve spoken to many pastors about this,” he said.

McGhee stresses “personal responsibility” for employees, stressing they should wear a mask, social distance, wash their hands and point out anything that needs to be pointed out to their employers.

According to Del. Higginbotham, some Democrats in the house are in support of the bill if it were to contain more stringent requirements for employers.

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