So Mitch McConnell and the senate Republicans want blanket employer liability protection as the price of another round of economic support. They have this leverage because Democrats kept postponing their agenda until they were the only ones with a list of things they wanted to spend money on.
(This illustrates classic bargaining theory to a T. Bargaining power depends on how much you think you will lose if the agreement is delayed [Rubinstein] or fails completely. Democrats feared economic damage to the public if bailout bills weren’t approved immediately. Once the financial markets were backstopped Republicans considered the rest to be low stakes. Hence the strong tilt to McConnell et al.)
So here is a possible Democratic counter:
OK, you want liability protection. Let’s give it to any employer, large or small, that sets up a health and safety committee to oversee protections on the job, elected by the whole workforce, one person one vote. If protections are consensual, liability is waived. Otherwise proceed at your own risk.
This would be good policy, and it has the political advantage of placing liability within a larger, readily communicable frame about participation and consent.
Odds on Senate agreement?
I’m working on both sides of this, giving advice wise.
Lots of questions:
If an employee contracts corona, how do we know if it happened at work?
If an employee is noncompliant, is it ok to fire them? Discipline them?
Does standard workers comp insurance cover corona infections? What happens to premiums?
If businesses or health providers get sued into bankruptcy, should the objective be to crush the entity or resurrect it?
Those who claim there is an easy moral answer maybe have not thought it through.
Agree on the point about bargaining power, and very interesting solution. As Tom/Rusty notes, traditional legal responses don’t seem great here. Proving causality in a negligence based legal regime would difficult as well as expensive since so many people would get sick outside of the work place. Also small businesses would be judgment proof. The fact that many will get sick away from work also suggests that workers comp may not be a great solution. (I think the government should offer life/disability/health coverage to essential workers.) We could have OSHA or some other regulator set workplace standards, but its hard to believe this would work. Plus this really does seem like a case where workers and owners have reasonably well aligned interests; both sides should generally want to get back to work taking reasonable precautions. Even people who are generally opposed to unions should recognize that bargaining should work well in a case like this. Of course, . . .