Wando Evans, 51, died on March 25, 2020, after contracting COVID-19 like symptoms. His family believes he contracted the virus at work, due to Walmart's lack of precautions and has filed a lawsuit.
Another employee at the same store also died with similar symptoms.
Walmart has since changed its procedures, including taking workers' temperatures and providing gloves and masks for employees. These deaths will probably not be the last ones that essential non-medical workers suffer. If your company is up and running, there's no need to panic about liability: your worker's compensation insurance probably already covers you.
Call your workers' compensation provider and double check with them
Employment attorney, Kate Bischoff, explained to me that it's doubtful this lawsuit will go anywhere other than through workman's compensation. She said, via message to me
"If the person got sick at work, then workers' comp is the exclusive remedy. But, if the employer wants to fight the claim, I'd think proving causation is going to be a big issue for claimants in these cases. How do you prove that the exposure was at work as opposed to somewhere else?
Employment attorney Jon Hyman concurs (also via message):
How do your prove where the exposure came from? For a health care worker it's an easier analysis than a Walmart cashier. But there's no way to establish where the exposure occurred, especially with community spread and with there likely being so many asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers.
Case law on COVID-19 exposure doesn't exist yet, but the courts consistently held that workplace injuries and illnesses, such as HIV needle sticks, are covered by worker's compensation.
In other words, you're probably already protected under your workers' comp insurance, and that is perhaps the limit of your liability.
Regardless of liability, you should do what you can to protect your employees.
Follow OSHA guidelines
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a workplace poster that can help guide you in what you should do for your business.
Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
If soap and running water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Employers of workers with potential occupational exposures to coronavirus should follow these practices:
Assess the hazards to which workers may be exposed.
Evaluate the risk of exposure.
Select, implement, and ensure workers use controls to prevent exposure, including physical barriers to control the spread of the virus; social distancing; and appropriate personal protective equipment, hygiene, and cleaning supplies.
Post the OSHA guidelines with your other workplace posters and follow them. Remind your employees that this is serious and take appropriate precautions, and don't get lazy. Provide hand sanitizer for your customers and staff, limit the number of people in the building, and make cleaning a priority.
Retail and delivery businesses, like Walmart and Amazon, are hiring vast numbers of people to help with the demand. Make sure you train everyone and keep that training going. You don't want your employees or your customers to become sick, even if your existing insurance will cover the costs.