Ohio HB-606 Gives Businesses COVID-19 Immunity

Recently, I spoke about a nationwide push to grant businesses immunity in instances related to COVID-19. This push for business immunity wasn’t just on the national level. It was also on the state and local level. Unfortunately, Ohio beat the federal government to the punch when House Bill 606 was signed into law. What House Bill 606 does is grant immunity for businesses from civil actions related in whole or in part to COVID-19 or transmissions or contractions of COVID-19. 

Can I Sue My Company for COVID-19?

HB-606 will make it harder for employees to sue their companies for COVID-19 related cases. There is a silver lining in that you may be able to bring a cause of action or impose liability for employers misconduct. To do this, you would need to show that the conduct was made with reckless disregard, intentional, or “willful or wanton”.

HB- 606 does not define what is intentional or “willful or wanton”, but it does define what conduct constitutes reckless disregard. Essentially, reckless disregard is shown by conduct taken with heedless indifference while disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk. Heedless indifference means you just don’t care and don’t even think to care about the consequences of your actions. Substantial risk means there is a clear risk created by taking the action, and unjustifiable risk means there’s no reason why you should have ever taken that action because of the associated risk.

For purposes of HB-606, you would need to show that your employer’s conduct was taken with heedless indifference while disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that you will contract COVID-19 or spread COVID-19. It can be difficult to prove, but it is something that employees can use to make sure employers don’t get away with bad behavior.

Governor’s Orders Have Little Power Under HB-606

A lesser talked about effect of HB-606 is that it says that Governor DeWine’s orders and orders from Ohio’s Director of Health do not impose any duty of care. This came as a surprise, especially considering how much effort companies and employees put into making sure they were followed.  Without a duty of care for these orders, workers are forced to deal with another hurdle to holding businesses accountable. 

HB-606 also prevents employees from submitting the orders as evidence and prevents the filing of class action suits against companies if they can impose liability. Preventing class actions is probably the most damaging note here, because that means cases that could be resolved all at once would have to be filed individually.  This almost guarantees that courts would have an influx of cases to go along with the backlog of cases currently. Class actions also help people who don’t know how to contact attorneys get legal representation for issues.  Unfortunately, that will not be the case now. 


Irony in the Name

What I think is ironic about House Bill 606, is that the short title of it is actually  “Grant immunity to essential workers who transmit COVID-19. But the majority of the bill actually focuses on businesses and protecting them. Despite the additional hurdles that House Bill 606 presents for employees, there are plenty of employment attorneys like myself who are fighting daily to ensure that workers’ rights are upheld.  

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James J. Hux is the Owner and Sole Attorney at Hux Law Firm, LLC. His practice areas include employment discrimination and general civil litigation throughout the State of Ohio.