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Does Business Manufacturing Need Immunity to Re-Open?

Burdine & Brown May 18, 2020

Now that the states are authorizing the re-opening of businesses to different degrees, businesses, large and small, want immunity from their workers if the business fails to provide a safe workplace.

There are many businesses that upon re-opening, will clean and disinfect and provide for their workers a safe, Covid-19 free environment. They will be diligent.

But have you ever taken a tour through a beef slaughter house? How about a chicken processing plant (14,000 workers work in this environment in Georgia alone). What about a fast-paced assembly plant that makes tech boards, medicines or beauty products?

These manufacturing plants are asking Congress to pass a law as part of the next stimulus package that would give immunity to all businesses so the worker working in an unsafe workplace cannot sue the employer for providing less than a safe work environment.

So what should the standard of care be to qualify as a safe workplace? Who sets the standard? Businesses are advocating that all that does not matter. Businesses do not want to worry about a shifting standard based on either science or the whims of an authoritarian government official. Businesses want immunity across the board.

With immunity in place, does this give the employer license to reduce the standard of care for a safe workplace? And what if the employee says no to returning to the workplace if they feel the workplace is not safe? Amazon is having trouble with this very issue. Workers there are attempting to organize. A few of the organizer leaders have been suddenly terminated. Amazon alleges the termination was for “other” reasons.

In Georgia, the employer could be subject to a lawsuit if they were found to be grossly negligent in safety matters. No case has ever been successful in so proving. Furthermore, in Georgia, the employee has no alternative remedy under the law if they are fired based on our right to work laws.

Immunity for businesses only lowers the bar only creates a lesser standard for businesses to comply with their re-opening. There is no need to change the law. Businesses have the advantage over the worker (and consumers) in virtually all aspects of Georgia economy. As they say: “We are all in this together.” Let's keep it that way.