Employer not responsible for employee’s family member’s COVID-19 infection

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Employers were overwhelmed with countless obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic, through legislation and emergency standards that focused on the interests of employee safety and wage loss. However, in its recent decision in Corby Kuciemba et al. v. Victory Woodworks Inc., the California Supreme Court drew the line in favor of employers by ruling that employers are not responsible for the spread of COVID-19 to employees’ family members.

In this case, the employee became infected with COVID-19 through exposure at work, and he then transmitted it to his wife, who became seriously ill and hospitalized on a respirator. The couple sued the employer for negligence, premises liability and public nuisance, claiming that the employer violated local health orders and placed other workers in close contact to him when there was reason to believe they had been exposed to COVID-19. The Supreme Court stated that: “Although it is foreseeable that an employer’s negligence in permitting workplace spread of COVID-19 will cause members of employees’ households to contract the disease, recognizing a duty of care to nonemployees in this context would impose an intolerable burden on employers and society in contravention of public policy.”

In the wake of the pandemic, COVID-19 cases are still making their way through the courts and will continue to shape employer obligations in the post-pandemic stages. Employers are advised to stay updated regarding their ongoing obligations.