As Missouri struggles to reopen from the coronavirus, employers are looking for ways to insulate themselves from liability if one of their workers contracts COVID-19. The method of choice in St. Joseph has been to force employees to sign a liability waiver.
But are these waivers enforceable? And how will they alter an employee’s rights to workers’ compensation if they get sick?
St. Joseph Employers Turn to Liability Waivers for Protection
Businesses in St. Joseph, both large and small, have rushed to reopen after a lengthy coronavirus shutdown. However, with the virus still rampant in Missouri, reopening businesses face a serious legal issue: What happens if one of their workers gets sick on the job? Can they sue their employer for bringing them back before it was safe? Will they be entitled to workers’ compensation?
Like so many issues surrounding the coronavirus, these are unprecedented. The answers are not entirely clear.
In an attempt to protect themselves, lots of employers are demanding that their workers sign a liability waiver in order to get their job back.
What is a Liability Waiver?
A liability waiver is a contract. People who sign one agree not to file a lawsuit if they get hurt in certain ways. They basically agree to assume certain risks.
Liability waivers are common with potentially dangerous activities, like skydiving. Skydiving companies have all of their customers sign a waiver that says they understand how dangerous skydiving can be. By assuming the risk of getting hurt while skydiving, customers cannot sue the company unless they were hurt by a grossly negligent or deliberate act.
However, businesses in St. Joseph are now turning to these waivers to protect themselves from their own workers. They are demanding that workers assume the risk of returning to work.
Liability Waivers May Not Be Enforceable
Just because a contract is signed does not necessarily mean that it is valid, though. Forcing someone to sign a contract under pain of death undercuts the mutual agreement necessary to make a binding contract.
In Missouri, contracts need to have “consideration” to be enforceable. “Consideration” is a legal term for the mutual transfer of something of value. If only one side benefits from the deal, it is not a contract because there is no consideration.
This matters for liability waivers because most employers are not offering new to their employees to get them to sign the waiver. The workers already had their jobs – now they are getting told to sign away their rights to keep them. Under the Missouri case Baker v. Bristol Care, continued employment is not valid consideration for a contract.
Even if it was, though, the waiver might still not be valid if it runs contrary to the public interest. While rare, contracts – like a liability waiver – can be struck down if they violate a well-known and important public policy, like public health interests.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
If your employer is demanding that you sign away your rights before returning to work, you need someone to look out for your interests. The personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at the Smith Law Office can help. Contact them online or call their law office in St. Joseph at (816) 875-9373.