The Legislature today is considering a bill — LD 1403, “An Act to Protect Maine Businesses, Nonprofits, Educational Institutions and Municipalities during the COVID-19 Pandemic” — that would protect the named organizations from most lawsuits claiming personal injury in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers must reject the proposal, which would create a free pass for organizations to put employees and customers at risk while depriving those same employees and customers of fundamental legal protections.
While we the bill does not completely absolve employers from their responsibility to public health guidelines,1 it would give employers the ability to act carelessly and put their workers at risk.
As we continue to try to contain the coronavirus, it’s critical to remember that workplace health is public health. Practices contained to one workplace or job site do not only affect the people there. They affect all of us. Simply put, we cannot ensure that Mainers are protected from COVID-19 — or other risks associate with lax health and safety standards — if we create the loopholes proposed by LD 1403.
The bill would be particularly harmful for frontline workers, such as those in health care, government, retail, or hospitality. While Maine has not published data on the occupation of those infected with COVID-19, we know from other states that many frontline occupations have seen increased levels of infection and even death over the past year.2
Undermining the right of employees and customers to hold employers responsible for jeopardizing their health and safety is a slap in the face to the frontline workers who already have very little control over their working conditions.
What’s more, workers already have very few options available to hold bad employers accountable for their actions. Under the last administration, the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration had all but abandoned any responsibility for enforcing COVID-19 safety in workplaces, issuing only voluntary guidelines to employers. Additionally, the bar for a successful personal injury lawsuit is already very high, with the burden of proof placed on the injured employee. There’s no demonstrable case that LD 1403 is needed to protect employers. Passing this bill will only serve to embolden bad employers by cutting off one of workers’ few remaining avenues to address serious health and safety problems.
Maine workers are the backbone of our economy. We cannot leave any workers behind if we are to have a full and equitable economic recovery. This includes ensuring that Mainers have confidence that they can go to work without putting their health at risk. Similarly, customers are going to want the same assurances that businesses haven’t been given a green light to relax their guard against COVID-19 or other threats to health and safety. If we want our economy to bounce back stronger than before, we need to continue to pay attention to public health, including the health of workers.
Now is not the time to abandon protections for the frontline workers who have kept Maine going through the pandemic. We cannot take away their right to redress against a bad employer. The Legislature must reject LD 1403.
 Yea-Hung Chen et al., “Excess mortality associated with the COVID-19 pandemic among Californians 18–65 years of age, by occupational sector and occupation: March through October 2020,” https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.21.21250266; Devean Hawkins et al., “COVID-19 deaths by occupation, Massachusetts, March 1-July 31, 2020 ,“ American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 2021 Apr;64(4):238-244 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33522627/
 For example, LD 1403 would still allow lawsuits in cases of willful misconduct, intentional infliction of harm, or gross negligence.