COVID-19 VaccineWith three coronavirus vaccines approved for use in the United States, an end to the pandemic appears in sight. But returning to normal comes with plenty of unknowns. For employers looking to reduce (or eliminate) virtual working, several pertinent questions are now surfacing.

Can I ask employees if they have been vaccinated?

The law generally prohibits employers from probing into an employee’s medical history. It is acceptable for a supervisor to ask if an employee is feeling OK or can complete work for the day. However, it is another story when an employer starts asking questions to determine if an employee is pregnant, diabetic, or suffering from some illness. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from forcing an employee to disclose disabilities or serious medical conditions.

Thankfully, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has removed any uncertainty about how the ADA applies in this context. According to recent guidance from the EEOC, employers are permitted to ask employees if they have been vaccinated and for documentation of the vaccine. Employers should, however, avoid health inquiries that probe into other areas not related to the vaccine, as this could run afoul of other employment laws relating to discrimination and disability.

Can I offer incentives for my employees to be vaccinated?


Continue Reading Coming Back to Work – Common Coronavirus Questions by Employers

Governor Ron Desantis issued an executive order prohibiting COVID-19 “vaccine passports” in Florida. The order prevents government entities from issuing “vaccine passports” or other standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying an individual’s COVID-19 vaccine status to a third party.

How does this order impact Florida business owners?

Further, this order prohibits businesses in Florida from requiring patrons to provide documentation certifying that the individual had a COVID-19 vaccination. Businesses still, however, can employ COVID-19 screening protocols and measures, such as requiring the use of a mask.


Continue Reading No COVID-19 “Vaccine Passports” for Florida

The Florida House of Representatives passed S.B. 72 in a decisive 83-31 vote, a bill that would give businesses and health care providers a legal safe harbor from COVID-19 injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law this afternoon. The law retroactively applies to causes of actions that have accrued but does not apply in a civil action which is commenced before the effective date of the law (March 29).

The new law provides civil immunity to corporations, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and houses of worship. The exception to the law would be a showing of gross negligence or intentional misconduct, both of which are very difficult standards to prove. The bill had its opponents, of course, namely, the plaintiff bar, as it creates significant legal hurdles for plaintiffs who wish to file lawsuits over coronavirus-related injuries.


Continue Reading COVID-19 Legal Safe Harbor Signed into Florida Law

Americans and the rest of the world are hoping that in 2021 every-day life will begin normalizing. With the rolling-out of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, many feel they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

However, even though the vaccine has reinstated hope in many, it still raises additional questions. Many have wondered whether employers can make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for their employees. The answer appears to be yes.

A guidance issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicated that employers can require employee vaccination to go to work. However, this does not necessarily mean that an employee would be automatically terminated. For example, the employee may be entitled to work remotely. Employers also may have to make exceptions for employees with religious objections and disabilities.

Employers should proceed with caution

Although employers can mandate a COVID-19 vaccination, the questions remains whether they will or whether they should. It will likely be challenging for employers to ensure their employees comply with the mandate. Employers requiring the vaccine may also receive some push-back.


Continue Reading Can Employers Require Employees to Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine?

We are already in February 2021! Can you believe it? Our Tampa Bay Buccaneers were crowned Super Bowl Champs, spring is upon us, yet we are still wearing masks, vaccinations are being provided to Floridians as fast as possible, yet it still looks a lot like 2020 in many ways.

What’s happening in Florida Legislature?

  • New protections for health care providers. A senate committee has successfully cleared legislation on February 10, 2021, that would create COVID-19 liability protections for Florida health care providers. Senate Bill 74 (SB 74) was advanced with a 6-4 vote. The proposal would require plaintiffs to prove a provider acted with “gross negligence or intentional misconduct instead of simple negligence.” Further, the evidentiary standard would also be “clear and convincing evidence” as opposed to the much lower bar of the “greater weight of the evidence.” All in all, the legislation was proposed to provide protections to Florida’s health care industry. Other similar measures are being advanced through the Republican-controlled legislature to extend protections to schools, churches, and businesses.
  • Potential immunity from liability. Senate Bill 72 (SB 72) advanced through the Senate Judiciary and would provide liability protection to businesses to be applied retroactively to a newly filed lawsuit. Plaintiffs would be required to obtain affidavits from Florida physicians attesting that defendants’ acts or omissions caused the damages, injuries or deaths. If businesses have “substantially” complied with government-issued health standards or guidance, the business would be immune from liability. A companion bill, House Bill 7 (HB 7) has advanced through the Florida House of Representatives which would raise the bar for personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits stemming from COVID-19 and provide immunity for businesses and entities that made a “good faith” prevention effort.

What’s the impact on Florida’s economy?


Continue Reading A 360 degree look at COVID-19 in Florida — from the Legislature to the Courts

On Tuesday, January 26, 2021 (at 9:00 a.m.), Labor & Employment Attorney Scott Atwood will provide an update for business owners and HR professionals on the state of employments laws.

With the introduction of COVID vaccines resulting in many employers returning their workforces to the office, they will likely face a multitude of questions. In this one-hour webinar, attendees will learn:

  • the most recent EEOC and CDC guidance on COVID return-to-work and discrimination issues;
  • the fate of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act; and,
  • the general status of employment laws under the new Biden Administration.


Continue Reading Webinar: 2021 Back to Work HR Law Update

In the ever-emerging business interruption coverage world, Superior Court Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr., a North Carolina Judge, ruled that Cincinnati Insurance Company owes a group of restaurants coverage for losses which flowed from a North Carolina mandated COVID-19 shutdown, in the matter of North State Deli LLC et al. v. The Cincinnati Insurance Co., 20-CVS-02569, in the State of North Carolina General Court of Justice for the County of Durham. This ruling appears to be the first decision to hold that a government-ordered shutdown to contain the virus caused a “physical loss.”

In previous blog posts (Recent COVID-19 Business Interruption Decision is a Win for Insurers and What You Need to Know About COVID-19 and Business Interruption Insurance Coverage), I have set forth that these cases are being fought on the issue of whether there is a “physical loss” which would trigger coverage under many business policies. Judge Hudson Jr. stated that the term direct physical loss includes an:

inability to utilize…something in the real, material or bodily world, resulting from a given cause.”

In sum, physical damage or alteration is not needed to trigger the coverage.


Continue Reading Trend or Outlier: North Carolina Restaurants, the First to Get Physical Loss COVID-19 Coverage

On July 1, 2020, an Ingham Michigan Judge dismissed a claim of first impression, ruling in favor of an insurer’s decision to deny business interruption coverage due to the finding that the insured business owner did not suffer a direct physical loss under the policy.

Similar to many lawsuits on this uniquely 2020 issue, the case (Gavrilides Management Company v. Michigan Insurance Company) focused on whether there was a “direct physical loss of or damage to the insured’s property” which would trigger the coverage for business interruption. This particular claim centered on a business owners’ two restaurants in Lansing Michigan in the amount of $650,000.

The insurer argued that the business interruption coverage kicks in by an occurrence that actually alters or damages the property, which apparently did not occur. The claimant argued that non-destructive losses are also covered by the policy.
Continue Reading Recent COVID-19 Business Interruption Decision is a Win for Insurers

The coronavirus has impacted more than an individual’s health and well-being. In the wake of this global pandemic, many businesses have been impacted — whether it be from an order from local or state government or because it has been directly hit with employees or customers who were diagnosed with COVID-19.

Businesses have had to grapple with the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” and alter their budget to purchase PPE and other sanitary items. Projections for revenue for 2020 were obliterated in the process leaving business owners with difficult decisions in terms of whether it is worthwhile to remain open in a limited capacity, temporary closure, furloughs, layoffs, bankruptcy, or in some cases going out of business. The Payroll Protection Program instituted by the Federal Government has provided a temporary salve, however, in many cases business losses continue in big and small ways.

Business Interruption Insurance

The natural offshoot of this business and economic disruption for businesses is whether their business insurance coverage, for which its owners paid premiums month in and month out, ‘owe’ for business income lost, and additional expenses, due to a viral pandemic such as to COVID-19.

Multiple insurers are facing federal class action lawsuits for denying business interruption claims. Further, claims by business owners for business disruption losses have increased exponentially. This post endeavors to examine some of the issues that will be at the forefront for business owners, and carriers, as it pertains to COVID-19.

Coverage


Continue Reading What You Need to Know About COVID-19 and Business Interruption Insurance Coverage

An injured worker may seek to establish compensability of the contraction of COVID-19 under two legal theories:

  1. Exposure; and,
  2. Occupational disease.

Pursuant to Florida Statutes §440.02(1), an injury or disease:

caused by exposure to a toxic substance is generally not an injury or accident arising out of employment.”

Although this section has not been utilized in the context of a virus, it is assumed, for the purposes of this discussion, that the virus is considered a toxic substance.

Exposure


Continue Reading Is an employer liable for a workers’ compensation claim if an employee contracts COVID-19 at work?