(Reuters) - More than three-quarters of employers plan to reopen their businesses in the next three months, but are bracing for an increase in lawsuits involving sick and family leave, workplace safety and workers’ compensation coverage, according to a survey released by Littler Mendelson on Tuesday.
The labor and employment law firm surveyed 1,010 in-house counsel, human resources professionals and executives last month, and found that their concerns centered on when to bring employees back and how to do so safely, how to accommodate increasing remote-work requests, and liability issues.
California-based Alka Ramchandani-Raj, who is of counsel at Littler and is a co-leader of its COVID-19 task force, said businesses are eager to return to a sense of normalcy but face a host of unknowns along the way.
”Particularly given the wide-ranging and often conflicting guidelines from state and local officials, employers are left to balance multiple logistical, emotional and legal concerns in determining whether, when and how to reopen their workplaces,” she said.
Littler found that 78% of respondents plan to reopen within three months, with one-third of them saying they will do so within one month. But 71% are at least somewhat concerned that there will be an increase in litigation once employees return to work.
Nearly 60% of the respondents said their businesses will conduct employee health screenings and testing. Most said they would check workers’ temperatures and screen them for COVID-19 symptoms, and less than 10% plan to conduct antibody or antigen testing.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance saying that temperature checks do not violate disability discrimination law, which generally prohibits employee medical testing. But it is less clear whether other types of tests are lawful, and screening raises privacy concerns that could spark litigation, Littler said.
And as part of their efforts to maintain social distancing and curb workers’ potential exposure to COVID-19, half of all respondents said they are considering requiring more employees to work remotely, Littler found in the survey. A similar number said they were being more amenable to accommodating work from home requests.