A bill introduced by House Republicans seeks to shield companies from lawsuits brought by workers who becoming sick with COVID-19 after going back to work, which many low-income individuals will be forced to do as certain states re-open non-essential businesses. Multiple states led by Republican governors have stipulated that individuals who refuse to return to work when asked due to fears of becoming sick will be denied unemployment benefits, essentially forcing them to put themselves at risk.

If this bill passes, they won’t be able to seek any compensation for missed work and hospital bills that would likely accrue if they did contract the novel coronavirus as long as the company followed state and federal laws around re-opening during the pandemic.

Of course, these laws can differ from state to state and none of them protect workers from getting sick as well as allowing them to stay home and still get paid.

Bill sponsor Representative Mike Turner claims that businesses are afraid to re-open and force employees back to work because they might get sued for putting their lives at risk.

“Many businesses are concerned about reopening due to the risk associated with being held liable if one of their employees contracts coronavirus after coming back to work,” he said in a statement. “This bill is proactive and seeks to protect complying businesses and employees as we begin to restart the economy.”

Republican-led Utah has already passed and signed a similar bill as the state begins to re-open restaurants and hair salons.

Under pressure from labor unions, Democrats are pushing back on this bill, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi promising to put the lives of workers before the profits of corporations.

“At the time of this coronavirus challenge, especially now, we have every reason to protect our workers and our patients in all of this,” she said. “So we would not be inclined to be supporting any immunity from liability.”

Unfortunately, champion bill-blocker Mitch McConnell is threatening to block additional state and local government funding unless Democrats give in on this, claiming to fear an “epidemic of lawsuits.” Lawsuits, as far as we know, have been responsible for few if any fatalities.

This may be why the bill is not very popular among people who actually work for a living.

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*First Published: May 5, 2020, 1:59 pm