Dental HR expert: Can dental business owners be held liable if an employee contracts COVID-19?

By Kevin Henry, DrBicuspid.com editor in chief

June 25, 2020 -- One of the many questions that has come up in recent weeks following the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the role of the dentist as the business owner in keeping his or her team safe from the virus.

From battles over personal protective equipment (PPE) to a variety of conversations between dentists and team members, there has been a great deal of talk in dental practices around the U.S. about health -- and how to keep everyone from patients to dental professionals safe.

Tim Twigg
Tim Twigg.

Earlier this month, a paper surfaced in which a leading health and safety expert in Great Britain warned that employers could be held liable if employees returned to work and contracted COVID-19 at their place of employment.

Knowing the high level of concern in some sectors over dentistry returning to fuller patient loads in the midst of a pandemic, we asked dental human resources expert Tim Twigg about employer liability during this time.

Twigg shared the following thoughts on the subject:

In the United States, businesses have [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)] to contend with, and, specifically in healthcare, there is [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] as well. Both are essentially "watchdogs" for workplace and employee safety.

If/when a business is proven to have been negligent about following requirements, then the business has serious liability in terms of penalties and fines. In addition, if the negligence leads to issues that directly affect employees/patients, and/or specifically causes injury or illness, then the businesses/employers could find themselves in some type of civil lawsuit for their failure to comply or follow required protocols.

If, on the other hand, a business/practice is following OSHA/CDC/health department requirements/guidelines, then there wouldn't be much liability related to COVID exposure or infections.

Twigg and his team at Bent Ericksen & Assoc. have compiled a guide -- titled "HR Considerations for Handling Employee Sickness Post-COVID-19: A How-To Guide" -- that is designed to help practitioners navigate the issues of employees being exposed and/or infected.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.


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