No Employer Liability for Take-Home COVID?
Well, not in California, at least, but also potentially in other states. The Supreme Court of California and now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit have found that an employer owes no duty of care under state law to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the members of an employee’s household.
In Kuciemba v. Victory Woodworks, Inc., an employee and his wife sued the employer, alleging that the wife contracted a severe case of COVID-19 because the employer had negligently failed to protect its employees from the virus. Because this involved questions of state law, the Ninth Circuit asked the Supreme Court of California to address, among other things, whether employers have a duty of care to protect employees’ household members.
The Supreme Court of California noted that, while state law imposes a general duty of care, there are exceptions to that general duty based on “compelling policy exceptions.” In this case, the Supreme Court found “the significant and unpredictable burden that recognizing a duty of care would impose on California businesses, the court system, and the community at large counsels in favor of an exemption.” The Ninth Circuit, relying on the state Supreme Court’s ruling, then dismissed the take-home COVID claim.
Although this case specifically arose under California law and in the context of COVID, it could prove instructive for courts (and employers) in other jurisdictions and with regard to future outbreaks of other communicable diseases.