Over the last several months, we’ve received a large number of inquiries from construction workers, subcontractors, and contractors who are worried about the possibility of civil litigation if it is determined that they were patient zero after a workplace outbreak. While we understand these concerns, it is important to understand that the liabilities of an employee or other individual at a workplace are complex — and much of someone’s ability to sue another person depends entirely on the situation, each of which is likely unique.
What does that mean? For the most part, it means don’t worry too much. Take necessary precautions that we know limit the spread of coronavirus. Wash hands often, avoid close contact with coworkers, wear a mask, etc. Taking these basic steps can greatly reduce the opportunity for someone else to sue you for negligence — because you can easily prove that you were doing your best to stay safe and healthy.
For an individual to have any shot at a lawsuit, they need a qualified work accident lawyer who can prove that someone’s negligence led to a specific outbreak. This is extremely difficult. Truth be told, the onus is mostly on the contractor, boss, or whoever else is in charge at a specific construction site.
For example, if an employer were to ask or require you to remove your mask while you work, then they are absolutely liable for any health-related consequences of a workplace outbreak. That’s because we know that the science says wearing masks helps greatly reduce the spread of the virus.
For the moment, other workplace hazards are still far more dangerous for the average construction workers. These include physical injuries like lacerations, burns, broken bones, head, neck, and back injuries, and even the loss of a limb. However, heart attack and stroke are common at construction sites when an employee is over the age of 55 — and we know that coronavirus and the resulting disease COVID-19 are far more dangerous when an underlying condition like heart disease is already present.
That means you should also visit your healthcare provider to discuss the risks of coronavirus at your workplace, how you can mitigate those risks, and exactly what you should do if you suspect you might be sick.
One thing is for sure: this is not the time to go to work while sick. Doing so can mean legal action later, justified or not, and can also put others at risk. It’s not worth the risk!
The CDC recommends that construction workers take the same basic precautions as anyone else when at work during the pandemic. If you feel symptomatic at work, notify your supervisor immediately. Go home and do not return to the workplace until a healthcare provider can clear you to work again depending on state and local procedures.
Do not share tools unless absolutely necessary, and attempt to disinfect those tools on a routine basis. Your supervisor should already have outlined procedures for making sure that shared items are kept clean. Employees should also make themselves aware of the CDC’s guidance regulations for employers.