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Difficulty lies ahead in workplace lawsuits surrounding coronavirus pandemic

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The coronavirus cannot only inflict physical pain, but it can lead some to lose their income.

Unemployment benefits can be acquired two ways. It all comes down to whether an employer has workers’ compensation insurance.

“So, for example, medical bills, some lost income, those are the two things primarily that workers’ compensation insurance is supposed to cover,” explained Chris Brasure, an attorney in Edinburg.

Brasure says having workers’ comp insurance acts as a bar preventing an employee from suing the employer. There is an exemption to when people can sue an employer with insurance.

“The employer was grossly negligent, which means not just unreasonable in what they did. But really, the employer created kind of an extreme degree of risk to the employee. If those two things the death and gross negligence can be established, then the employer can be held responsible,” said Brasure.

Employees can also sue for benefits and lose wages if the employer doesn’t have a workers’ compensation insurance policy. Those claims or lawsuits will look at whether the business adhered to regulations.

“OSHA has a regulation called the General Duty Clause, which basically says that the employer has to provide a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to the employees,” Brasure said.

The pandemic is proving a challenge legally. Those who file for getting sick on the job may find it difficult to trace where it happened.

“If there was an outbreak at your work, is that enough? Is it that there was no outbreak at your worksite and so, you can't prove it? These are the kind of questions that lawyers and courts are going to have to wrestle with, I feel like, as this unfolds,” said Brasure.

Challenges are also expected for employers suing against insurance companies that are supposed to provide business interruption coverage.

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