A Maine attorney gives advice to business owners around COVID-19

With many business owners looking to get back to work, one question many are asking is how liable are they if someone gets COVID-19 in the building? James Irwin leads the employment practice group at Pierce Atwood in Portland. He held a webinar Tuesday on how businesses can prepare for reopening. “(The) COVID-19 pandemic and the response are unlike anything I have seen in my career,” Irwin said. “There is a path forward, but you have to follow the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) program.” OSHA, the federal agency that already oversees rules and standards for workplace safety, has issued guidance on COVID-19. “They have a hierarchy of risks they apply and workplace controls that they ask you to comply with safe practices to look at,” Irwin said. Other safe practices include following checklists that will come with each phase of reopening the economy from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. Businesses will need to comply before opening and can get a badge to display. If a business were to reopen without one, Irwin says the business puts themselves in a position where if a customer gets sick, they could be held accountable. “Their argument would be you didn’t meet your duty of care and you were negligent and now I’ve gotten ill,” Irwin said.Irwin said it would be fact-specific and depend on circumstances on the strength of a case someone would have for accusing a business of being to blame for them contracting COVID-19. “But I would say there are plenty of enterprising lawyers who will be looking for opportunities to make claims like that or some on the other side of the fence,” Irwin said.Like many, Irwin is keeping an eye on Washington, DC., where some lawmakers are pushing to exempt all businesses from COVID-19 liabilities, all while maintaining that the best defense is to create, show and follow a plan with social distancing, safe work practices that protects customers, staff and employers.”Our goal is to keep people safe and keep employers free from those kinds of claims we will advise people to take that risk seriously,” Irwin said.

With many business owners looking to get back to work, one question many are asking is how liable are they if someone gets COVID-19 in the building?

James Irwin leads the employment practice group at Pierce Atwood in Portland. He held a webinar Tuesday on how businesses can prepare for reopening.

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“(The) COVID-19 pandemic and the response are unlike anything I have seen in my career,” Irwin said. “There is a path forward, but you have to follow the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) program.”

OSHA, the federal agency that already oversees rules and standards for workplace safety, has issued guidance on COVID-19.

“They have a hierarchy of risks they apply and workplace controls that they ask you to comply with safe practices to look at,” Irwin said.

Other safe practices include following checklists that will come with each phase of reopening the economy from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. Businesses will need to comply before opening and can get a badge to display.

If a business were to reopen without one, Irwin says the business puts themselves in a position where if a customer gets sick, they could be held accountable.

“Their argument would be you didn’t meet your duty of care and you were negligent and now I’ve gotten ill,” Irwin said.

Irwin said it would be fact-specific and depend on circumstances on the strength of a case someone would have for accusing a business of being to blame for them contracting COVID-19.

“But I would say there are plenty of enterprising lawyers who will be looking for opportunities to make claims like that or some on the other side of the fence,” Irwin said.

Like many, Irwin is keeping an eye on Washington, DC., where some lawmakers are pushing to exempt all businesses from COVID-19 liabilities, all while maintaining that the best defense is to create, show and follow a plan with social distancing, safe work practices that protects customers, staff and employers.

“Our goal is to keep people safe and keep employers free from those kinds of claims we will advise people to take that risk seriously,” Irwin said.