retail news in context, analysis with attitude

From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

"Employers across the country are being sued by the families of workers who contend their loved ones contracted lethal cases of Covid-19 on the job, a new legal front that shows the risks of reopening workplaces.

"Walmart Inc., Safeway Inc., Tyson Foods Inc. and some health-care facilities have been sued for gross negligence or wrongful death since the coronavirus pandemic began unfolding in March. Employees’ loved ones contend the companies failed to protect workers from the deadly virus and should compensate their family members as a result. Workers who survived the virus also are suing to have medical bills, future earnings and other damages paid out.

"In responding to the lawsuits, employers have said they took steps to combat the virus, including screening workers for signs of illness, requiring they wear masks, sanitizing workspaces and limiting the number of customers inside stores. Some point out that it is impossible to know where or how their workers contracted Covid-19, particularly as it spreads more widely across the country."

You can read the story here.

The Journal writes that "the cases are part of an unfolding liability threat facing U.S. companies of all industries as many resume operations after having employees work remotely or being shut down altogether for months.

"The coronavirus relief bill that Senate Republicans unveiled this week would make it harder for workers to sue their employer if they get sick on the job. The proposed legislation protects companies, schools and churches from being held liable for coronavirus infections beginning in December 2019, unless they acted with willful misconduct or engaged in grossly negligent behavior.

"The bill would cap punitive damages, set a clear-and-convincing-evidence burden of proof and raise requirements for personal-injury lawsuits. It would also push such lawsuits to federal courts, which potentially are more favorable to defendants."

KC's View:

I am conflicted on this one.  I think there are plenty of cases in which companies tried to do the right thing, but made mistakes because of changing circumstances and evolving intelligence.

But I also think there were cases in which companies were not necessarily motivated by what I would consider appropriate priorities.  

I'd like to see the latter companies pay a significant price for their actions, but I am not confident in the system's ability to separate the wheat from the chaff.