Workplace rights and protections amid coronavirus


HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW)- Employees and businesses are dealing with unchartered territory due to coronavirus.

Senator Stephen Goldfinch said people are worried while they wait for the country re-open.

“We’ve received a lot of phone calls from people that are concerned that they’re going to be bankrupt in the next five to 10 days,” said Sen. Goldfinch, law partner at Goldfinch, Winslow LLC.

He’s urging people to take advantage of the payroll protection program, SBA loans, and unemployment benefits.

News 13 asked what legal liabilities employers have amid the coronavirus outbreak and if an employer could be held responsible if one of their employees contracts the virus.

“I think the right answer to that is employers need to simply take reasonable precautions. You recognize somebody sick, you need to corner them immediately and say, how do you feel? I see you’re sweating. I see you’re coughing. I think it’s time for you to go home for the health and safety of our employees,” said Goldfinch.

Goldfinch said if they don’t take reasonable precautions, “I think it could be an interesting case. I think there may be some case law that develops around that, but it hasn’t developed yet,” said Goldfinch.

In turn, News 13 asked if an employee can refuse to come to work if they fear for their health and safety.

They can refuse to come to work, but this is still an at will state, which means they can be fired for not coming to work,” said Goldfinch.

Goldfinch said if it’s an essential business and the employer has taken reasonable precautions and a worker refuses to come in, in South Carolina, they can be fired even amid the pandemic.

When it comes to contracts, Goldfinch said for the most part they are still enforceable, but there is a clause for an act of God which mainly triggers an insurance company to pay a claim.

“If you can’t make a delivery because everybody is sick from the virus, that may be a force majeure. That may be an act of God clause that gets evoked,” said Goldfinch.

Goldfinch said the legal community is working on how to do remote notaries and remote witnesses when it comes to executing legal documents.

Despite courts being shut down, Goldfinch said the legal system is still moving forward and they have settled more civil litigation in the last couple of weeks than in the last couple of months.

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