The California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that employers owe no duty to prevent “take home” cases of Covid-19 and are not liable to nonemployees who contract Covid from employee household members who bring the virus home from the workplace. The Court ruled that under California law, “an employer does not owe a duty of care to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to employees’ household members”. (Kuciemba v. Victory Woodworks, Inc., 14 Cal. 5th 993 (2023).
Kuciemba involved a construction employee who became infected with Covid 19, brought the virus home and transmitted it to his wife, who was then hospitalized for several weeks as a result. On May 6, 2020, Kuciemba began working for Victory Woodworks (Victory) at a construction site in San Francisco. Two months later, and without taking the required precautions outlined in the San Francisco Covid19 health ordinance, Victory transferred a group of workers to the San Francisco site from another site where they may have been exposed to Covid. After being required to work in close contact with these new workers, Kuciemba was infected with the virus and transmitted it to his wife.
The California Supreme Court Ruling:
The court held that an employer does not owe a duty of care under California law to prevent the spread of Covid 19 to an employee’s household members. The 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.”
The Court acknowledged the importance of compliance with health orders to prevent the spread of Covid 19 while at the same time stating:
“However there is only so much an employer can do. Employers cannot fully control the risk of infection because..employers have little to no control over the safety precautions taken by employees or their household members outside the workplace. Nor can they control whether a given employee will be aware of, or report, disease exposure.”
The Court concluded that exposing employers to liability under these circumstances has the potential to destroy businesses or might lead employers to adopt precautions that would unduly slow, or even shut down the delivery of essential services to the public.
Despite the ruling in Kuciemba, employers should nevertheless continue to be diligent in protecting their workforce against the spread of Covid 19 as per the requirements of the Cal/OSHA Covid 19 non-emergency regulations now in effect.
The content was provided by SCGMA legal counsel and is for general informational purposes only. Readers should consult with their own legal counsel for company specific legal advice.