Small Business – Opening Up and Tort Risk

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released a report on June 23, 2020. They surveyed 416 small business executives from organizations with 500 or fewer employees.

  • Small business owners are hopeful for a swift economic recovery as they begin reopening after closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • To reopen, nearly a third of those surveyed said they’re re-evaluating business protocols.
  • The majority (82%) said they are considering or adopting broader telework policies, while almost half (43%) said they will allow flexible hours or compressed workweeks.
  • Most respondents reported an overall decrease in revenue since the beginning of the pandemic, 52% expect to recover to pre-COVID profitability in six months or less. This is a speedy recovery in comparison to forecasts by economists predicting some metro areas won’t return to pre-COVID-19 employment levels until 2024, according to SHRM.
  • Almost half said they anticipate losing customers going forward and 53% are concerned about the increased risk of lawsuits due to reopening amid the pandemic, according to SHRM’s report.
  • SHRM’s report found that by the end of the June, 23% of small businesses had already returned to work or reopened worksites

Per Lathrop GPM partner Mara Cohara, bringing back employees too early after corona virus-related office lock downs lift may put you at legal risk. Plaintiff lawyers will be looking to test the tort waters with employees who get sick upon their return.

The ordinary path for handling an employee claim of harmful exposure on the job is worker’s compensation. But the return of employees to the office after months of remote work is the kind of event that will spark a rise in lawsuits, which the company will have to cover. As history has explicitly evidenced, whether or not the company have an actual duty, creative plaintiff attorneys are going to look for angles to go outside workers compensation, and try to go into the company’s deeper pockets,” said  “Cohara,”whose practice focuses on tort law.