Publishers face a quandary in bringing back employees to their offices as more cities and states lift lockdowns on businesses. Coronavirus-related liability has become a hot-button issue, pitting
workers against employers and spurring partisan debate in Washington.
The Post and Courier
, South Carolina's biggest newspaper, is emblematic of the friction that
publishers face in asking staff to return to their offices. As reported by Maxwell Tani, media reporter at The Daily Beast
, The Post and
faced employee objections to its requirement that people return to work on June 1, more than a month after the state was among the first to let more businesses reopen.
The newspaper last week informed staff that someone in its building had a confirmed case of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. It also allowed some employees to work
from home again, as they had in the early days of the pandemic.
The pandemic threatens to become a legal morass for all businesses -- not just publishers -- that must consider
the liabilities that come with putting workers in settings where they may contract a potentially deadly virus.
Even if publishers take precautions, such as requiring face
masks, rearranging desks, disinfecting offices and giving out hand sanitizer by the bucketful, there's still the possibility someone will contract the coronavirus. That person will determine that it
happened at work, and sue their employer for negligence.
So far, there hasn't been a wave of coronavirus-related lawsuits against businesses, as many have feared there would
be as people get back to work. Most lawsuits have come from businesses suing their insurance companies over coverage, according to data cited by CNBC
. That could change as more businesses require employees to return to
Amid the potential for these issues to hamper business activity and kill off an economic recovery, lobbyists and lawmakers are weighing proposals to limit the
liability for businesses. In order for any law to satisfy pro-business and pro-worker constituencies, it likely would have to be limited to a certain period and not interfere with other worker
It will be interesting to see what happens at The Post and Courier amid the tension between management and workers. Ideally, the parties will resolve
their differences and work together on a strategy to reach business goals, while also helping to keep people safe.