Washington, April 21: Major U.S. business lobbying groups are asking Congress to pass measures that would protect companies, large and small, from coronavirus-related lawsuits when states start to lift pandemic restrictions and businesses begin to reopen.
Their concerns have the ears of congressional Republicans, though it is far from clear if the idea has the Democratic support it would need to pass in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, Reuters reported.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) are seeking temporary, legal and regulatory safe harbour legislation to curb liabilities for employers who follow official health and safety guidelines. The Business Roundtable, which represents corporate chief executives, is also exploring ways to limit coronavirus liabilities.
Businesses want to make sure that they are not held liable for policy decisions by government officials, should employees or customers contract COVID-19 once operations resume. They also want protection from litigation that could result from coronavirus-related disruptions to issues like wages and hours, leave and travel.
“These are practical things to reassure businesses that they can confidently move to implement a reopening,” Neil Bradley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief policy officer, said in an interview.
The debate over when to ease restrictions intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease, which has killed more than 40,000 Americans, has recently entered a more politically charged phase with Republican President Donald Trump voicing support for scattered street protests aimed at ending the restrictions.
Public health officials warn that doing so prematurely risks sending infection rates soaring and further taxing an overwhelmed healthcare system.
The idea of protecting businesses from being sued by workers or customers has already found support in some quarters on Capitol Hill.