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North Dakota governor signs bill to shield employers from COVID-19 lawsuits

The new law will likely sink any civil lawsuits brought by employees who allege they contracted or were exposed to the coronavirus at work — unless they believe their employer intended to hurt them.

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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, left, signs a bill on Friday, April 23, that will protect employers from lawsuits by workers who caught the coronavirus while on the job. Secretary of State Al Jaeger, right, waits to attest the bill signing. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed a bill into law Friday, April 23, that will protect employers from lawsuits by workers who caught the coronavirus while on the job.

The Republican governor, a former tech executive, called House Bill 1175 "common sense liability protection" for employers who battled difficult economic conditions and coronavirus-induced uncertainty over the last year.

The legislation, sponsored by West Fargo GOP Rep. Michael Howe, will likely sink any civil lawsuits brought by employees who allege they contracted or were exposed to the coronavirus at work — unless they believe their employer intended to hurt them. Howe and other proponents say businesses shouldn't have to worry about frivolous legal action being taken against them by law firms that are trying to ensnare employers.

The bill specifically mentions health care providers and disinfectant manufacturers as businesses that would gain liability protection. The protections for businesses will go into effect immediately and apply retroactively to the beginning of 2020.

Both chambers of the Legislature passed the bill with broad Republican support despite complaints from some Democrats that the legislation failed to consider the hardships endured by workers. Opponents also argued some employers did not take the right steps to prevent COVID-19 infection at their workplaces and shouldn't get off without consequences.

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Republicans in Congress repeatedly pushed similar legislation at the federal level, but Democrats held firm against their efforts. A handful of states, including Montana, independently passed liability protections for employers over the last year.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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