Should You Sign a COVID-19 Liability Waiver?

Your employer may ask you to sign a COVID-19 liability waiver. This waiver seeks to prevent you from bringing any lawsuit against the employer should you become ill or otherwise suffer from inadequate safety precautions at work during the pandemic. The employer may threaten to refuse to hire you or may fire you if you refuse to sign. Can your employer force you to sign such a waiver?

Many employment lawyers believe that such a waiver is likely unenforceable in many state courts, including NY, because the court would consider it fundamentally unfair – because of your unequal bargaining power vis a vis your employer such a “take it or leave it” situation would be considered unconscionable.

It is important to remember, moreover, that even if you sign such a waiver, you would *still* be eligible in NYS to file a workers’ compensation claim for lost-time and medical costs from any work-related injury or illness. That said, you would have to show that your illness was “work-related” and this might be hard to prove to the satisfaction of the state authorities. There would be no protection for a family member who might catch COVID-19 from you.

In practice you might not have a real choice but to sign the waiver. Your employer *might* terminate you if you did not, and a court case overturning this wrongful termination might take a long time to resolve or it might not be successful

Your best protection may be to sign the waiver but then take vigorous steps while employed to ensure that the employer is following guidelines and taking all steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. This includes talking with co-workers and acting together to push the employer to act responsibly and safely. Such “concerted action” with co-workers is protected by federal law, and the Tompkins County Workers’ Center stands ready to advise you how to do such a ‘concerted action’. In addition, you should contact either/both Tompkins County Environmental Health and NYS Department  of Labor if you feel that safety precautions are not being taken and/or guidelines not being followed.