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HR ALERT: Governor Hutchinson Signs Three Executive Orders Concerning COVID-19 Liability and Workers' Compensation Coverage

Today, June 15, 2020, Governor Hutchinson declared and signed three executive orders regarding (1) business liability, (2) medical immunity, and (3) workers' compensation coverage. 

Executive Order 20-33 provides that all businesses that are currently open or remain open during the COVID-19 emergency as well as their employees are immune from civil liability for damages or injuries caused by or resulting from exposure to COVID-19. The immunity does not apply to willful, reckless, or intentional misconduct. However, it is presumed that the actions of a business and its employees are not willful or reckless if the business owner substantially complies with public health directives. The immunity is effective from June 15, 2020-the date of the Executive Order-until the emergency is terminated. The immunity does not extend to workers' compensation benefits, meaning employees may still file for those benefits (as discussed in Executive Order 20-35). 

Executive Order 20-34 authorizes health care workers and providers to use crisis standards of care to respond to treat COVID-19 patients. As emergency responders, these health care workers and providers are immune from civil liability for actions taken in the course of providing COVID-19 related treatment during the public health emergency. Such immunity does not extend to any act or omission that is willful, reckless, or intentional misconduct.

Executive Order 20-35 assures workers' compensation coverage for employees during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Under the executive order, COVID-19 is considered an occupational disease under the law, and an exception to the prohibition on compensation for ordinary diseases of life. A causal connection between employment and the disease is required for workers' compensation coverage. The executive order applies to all claims filed after June 15, 2020 and expires automatically upon termination of the emergency.

These Orders are clearly designed to limit the potential for civil lawsuits stemming from businesses opening to employees and the public. It is important to note that business liability may still exist where a company permits reckless acts or does not sufficiently adhere to state and federal health guidelines relating to returning employees, guests, and customers to a work location. Contacting your workers' compensation carrier to discuss your business's policy, if applicable, may also be important in light of these orders.

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Contact an attorney with our Firm to discuss maximizing the protections of these Executive Orders for your business.