In the case of Kuciemba v. Victory Woodworks, Inc., the California Supreme Court ruled that while take-home COVID claims filed by employee spouses aren’t barred by the exclusivity provisions of workers’ compensation law, employers owe no duty of care to non-employees.
Workers’ compensation claims are predicated upon injury suffered by an employee. An employee who files a workers’ compensation claim can’t also file a lawsuit against their employer, due to the exclusivity rules. But the spouse isn’t entitled to workers’ compensation if they get sick. And the claim here wasn’t based on the employee’s injury, but the spouse’s.
However, claims rooted in negligence must first establish that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. Employers, the Court ruled, don’t have a special relationship with the spouse’s of employees such that it establishes a legal responsibility to use reasonable care in preventing harm to them. The Court noted that while it’s foreseeable that negligence in employer policies and practices would increase the likelihood of spreading a highly contagious disease to employee household members, to recognize an employer duty of care to non-employees would “impose an intolerable burden on employers and society” that would be in contrast to public policy.
Of course, the bones of this case are more in the realm of injury/tort law rather than California employment law (which is our focus at Nassiri Law Group). But it’s still worth pausing to review, given how substantially COVID-19 upended so many workplace procedures, policies, and practices. So much of this was uncharted territory for the modern world. As such, California courts are still getting around to resolving workplace conflicts – direct and ancillary – that cropped up in the midst of the pandemic and its aftermath. Continue Reading ›