The economic director of the White House has said he thinks American businesses should not be held liable if their employees or customers become infected with the coronavirus.
During an appearance on CNBC, Larry Kudlow argued protecting businesses from the consequences of operating in the middle of a pandemic was necessary to instil confidence in business owners who wish to reopen.
“You’ve got to give the businesses some confidence here that if something happens, and it may not be their fault – the disease is an infectious disease – if something happens, you can’t take them out of business,” Mr Kudlow said.
“You can’t throw big lawsuits at them. And I think liability reforms and safeguards are going to be a very important part of it.”
Mr Kudlow’s sentiments are shared by Donald Trump, who said on Monday that he believed protections needed to be established to shield businesses from lawsuits.
“We have tried to take liability away from these companies,” the US president said. “We just don’t want that because we want the companies to open and to open strong.”
Mr Trump’s statements came after the US Chamber of Commerce – a lobbying group aimed at promoting business interests – published a letter that claimed that liabilities related to coronavirus exposure were “the largest area of concern for the overall business community” and asked that businesses not be subject to standards set in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards in place requiring training and personal protective equipment use intended to stop the spread of coronavirus.
There have already been instances of essential staff becoming ill while working.
Food workers, like those at meat packing plants, have become infected - there have been “dozens” of outbreaks in meatpacking plants across the nation, USA Today reported - and Amazon workers have held demonstrations over warehouse conditions related to coronavirus exposure.
In addition to seeking liability protection due to coronavirus exposure, the US Chamber of Commerce is also pushing for business protections against disruptions to business that affect wages, hours, leave and travel.
“These are practical things to reassure business that they can confidently move to implement a reopening,” Neil Bradly, chief policy officer at the US Chamber of Commerce, told Reuters.
Such moves, while protecting businesses, could leave employees open to lost wages, disrupted benefits and potentially temporary loss of leave.
This week, more than 24 million people have filed for unemployment assistance in the US.
It appears the move would have broad support among Republican politicians.
“There’s been a lot of discussion among conservative Republicans,” Mike Johnson, a Republican representative on Mr Trump’s congressional task force on the economy, said.
“On the Republican side, I think there would be broad support, probably near-unanimous support.”
Though Democrats have not issued an official position on the legislation, some politicians have noted there would need to be caveats to any liability legislation that ensured businesses wouldn’t have carte blanche protections.
“If you just want to immunize the business and stop there, that’s not much of a conversation,” Bobby Scott, a Democrat representative, told Reuters.
Mr Scott and other House Democrats recently introduced legislation requiring employers to implement infectious disease exposure control plans meant to keep their workers safe during the pandemic
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