Your Restaurant Business Could Be Liable if Workers Bring Coronavirus to the Table

Whether a worker contracted coronavirus from another employee or gave it to a customer, restaurant owners/operators can be held liable. Find out what you can do to reduce your risk of workers’ compensation claims associated with coronavirus. 

As the deadly coronavirus spreads its wings globally, many local businesses are asking themselves: What if one of our workers tests positive for coronavirus? Could we be held liable if they contracted in our establishment, or they cause it to spread to customers?

The answer is yes.

A hospitality business can file a worker’s compensation (WC) claim if a worker contracts the coronavirus and unknowingly brings it to work, putting other employees and customers at risk.  

WC policies typically cover lost time, permanent disability, medical expenses and provide death benefits for workers in such a scenario. 

What if an employee unknowingly infects their spouse and children? Again, this is a covered peril. This time under WC coverage B, or the Employers Liability section of WC coverage. When more than one employee or individual is involved, the WC claim will likely be considered a catastrophic loss or exposure claim, kicking in full policy limits.

What Employers Can Do Right Now

As of February 17, coronavirus has infected more than 71,000 people around the world. While mostly in mainland China, this number includes at least 15 cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Thanks to efficient and effective disease prevention in the U.S., there’s a good chance the disease won’t become a pandemic domestically. However, there’s no way to tell for sure. Make sure your restaurant is prepared with the following best practices:

1.    Be precautious. Require clearance for any exposed employees before returning to work. Require employees waiting on coronavirus test results to remain at home until a negative result is official. Let the entire restaurant staff know they have been tested, the result was negative and that you’ve cleared them to come back to work.

2.    Be proactive. If your business doesn’t already have one, now is the time to create an emergency preparedness plan. Consider establishing procedures that can be enacted on a moment’s notice should there be an outbreak in your local area, or you have reason to believe one of your workers came to work contagious. How will you alert your customers? What will you say? Will you close the restaurant temporarily? What will be required of you to re-open?   

3.    Stress regular hygiene. As a restaurant owner/operator, you’re likely already doing this, but it’s time to raise the bar. If you don’t already have them, hang signs around the restaurant reminding both workers and customers to wash their hands frequently and cover their faces while sneezing and coughing. Make it easy to do so by placing hand sanitizer stations around the restaurant, and have the bathrooms cleaned more often. Make sure sanitary supplies are stocked and refilled often. Don’t let food service workers come to work if they’re not feeling well. If necessary, amend your company policies to remove consequences for doing so.

Instituting these policies will help ensure that your restaurant is prepared for any type of health outbreak – coronavirus included – and can weather the storm, keeping your business afloat regardless of the challenge. Additionally, reach out to your insurance broker or workers compensation expert for more informatio