Proposed Legislation Voids Agreements that Exempt Employer Liability for Negligent Exposure to COVID

State Sen. John Liu, D-Queens, sponsored bill S8587 which declares agreements exempting employers from liability for negligence related to the COVID-19 pandemic void and unenforceable. https://www.nysenate.gov/senators/john-c-liu/legislation


New York state lawmakers are considering this proposed bill for legislation which aims to void employment agreements that exempt employers from liability over negligence tied to the coronavirus pandemic. This measure was looked at on Monday, July 20, 2020 by lawmakers in the Legislature’s upper chamber during a series of committee meetings conducted via video feed.


The legislation would void any employment agreements that exempt an employer from liability for personal injury damages due to the employer’s negligence over the “handling of measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” However, it still needs to pass both chambers before becoming law.


Arguments are being made that companies should be taking care of operating in a safe way that protects their workers from the coronavirus pandemic. For example, a legal memorandum on this issue stated:

“As New York businesses begin to re-open, some businesses are requiring their workers to sign waivers of liability in order to return to work,” according to the memorandum in support. “Such a waiver should not be a license for businesses to neglect their employee’s safety and operate recklessly with regards to the COVID19 pandemic.”

It also remains unclear whether New York lawmakers will repeal an immunity law that gave hospitals and nursing homes cover from potential lawsuits tied to the coronavirus crisis. The Emergency or Disaster Treatment Protection Act (“the Act”), enacted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in early April 2020, granted broad immunity to lawsuits against healthcare providers, including nursing homes, for negligence related to the coronavirus. The Act, lobbied for by industry representatives, was inserted on Page 347 of New York’s final, budget bill. The immunity provision does not cover gross negligence or reckless misconduct, but the law says those definitions do not apply to “decisions resulting from a resource or staffing shortage.”


Our Firm has extensive experience counseling employers and businesses on employee and labor law issues, and preparing applicable employee policies, particularly relating to the evolving regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have any questions related to this Legal Briefing or questions related to COVID-19 reopening rules and procedures, please contact any member of our Firm at 585-730-4773.

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