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California Supreme Court Says Employers Not Liable For Employee Spread of COVID To Family

A California woman claimed she got COVID-19 after her husband brought it home from a San Francisco construction site in 2020. The woman was hospitalized for several weeks. She sued her husband’s employer for negligence and premises liability. 

California’s highest court ruled that employers do not owe a duty of care under state law to prevent the spread of COVID to an employee’s household member. The court said, “Although it is foreseeable that an employer’s negligence in permitting workplace spread of COVID-19 will cause members of employee’s households to contract the disease, recognizing a duty of care to nonemployees in this context would impose an intolerable burden on employers and society in contravention of public policy.”

The ruling is not limited to COVID. Employers will also not be liable for other infectious diseases such as the flu, RSV, chickenpox, and whooping cough. Employees cannot establish definitively that these illnesses came from their worksites. The court has previously upheld employer liability for secondary asbestos exposure where employees could directly trace the illness and medical complications to the employer.

California employers must still comply with the state's nonemergency COVID-19 prevention regulations. These regulations require employers to provide improved ventilation and face coverings, make COVID-19 testing available, monitor exposures and outbreaks, exclude COVID-19-positive employees from the workplace, implement policies and methods to prevent transmission, and notify employees of exposure to the virus. Federal law also requires employers to prevent the spread of disease to employees under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).