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Understanding COVID-19 And The Law, Can Employees Sue Their Employers?

by | Feb 1, 2021 | Firm News

I have been practicing law for 40 years, for most of that time with my father, Dave Nixon.

I grew up in New Boston and am a proud graduate of New Boston Central School (NBCS) and Goffstown High. I’ve also had the joy of watching my children grow up here, and attend NBCS and Mountain View Middle School, as well as being able to host foreign exchange students who attended Goffstown High. Therefore, I believe I have an understanding of what area residents’ concerns might be and what questions they might have about the legal system. But, as lawyers, we don’t always live in the “real world,” and often take for granted how much of an understanding others have of how the law works. If there are issues I can address, please reach out to me and let me know what’s on your mind.

A topic that I believe may currently be affecting people locally is how the COVID-19 pandemic involves the legal system. One way is potential liability on the part of employers—can they be sued if an employee or customer contracts the virus? There is a very short answer in the case of employer/employee interaction— no. Almost 100 years ago, our Legislature, like every other state, passed the Workers’ Compensation law, which, in exchange for no-fault benefits for employees who are hurt or become ill at work, prohibits lawsuits.

However, an employee who contracts the virus because of exposure at work is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits—primarily payment of medical bills and disability benefits. The problem is that you must prove you caught it at work, which is not always easy. For that reason, one of the Governor’s early Executive Orders included a presumption that first responders who contract the virus did so at work.

Unfortunately, that has not been extended to all essential workers yet. If you too believe that people who are in jobs that involve frequent contact with the public deserve similar consideration, contact our Legislators about introducing stronger workers’ compensation protections.

In the case of customers or vendors, although there is a theoretical right to sue a business which you believe negligently caused you to be exposed to COVID-19, proving that link is even more difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, although there has been much debate nationally and at the state level about passing legislation to “protect” businesses from these suits, my practical experience as a lawyer leads me to believe that this is an attempt to “fix what ain’t broke,” as they used to say when I was in the Legislature.