Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday signed executive orders protecting businesses and health care providers from lawsuits related to the spread of Covid-19 and extending workers’ compensation to employees who contract the virus at work.
The executive orders were an alternative to calling a special session of the Legislature, something some lawmakers did not want to do during the pandemic, according to Hutchinson.
Arkansas Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, during Hutchinson’s daily coronavirus briefing on Monday, said the executive orders are “adequate” and “send the message to our businesses and employees that we appreciate them getting back to business, providing the necessary services to our citizens.”
Senate President Jim Hendren said businesses need protection as they reopen, but the executive orders are not intended to provide “blanket immunity for bad actors.”
“Businesses needed some protection as they opened up in this environment,” Hendren said. “So many of them have been so battered by the loss of customer base, by mandatory shutdowns; and now the thought that they are going to open up, try to get back on their feet, and be hit with lawsuits, was just something that was a real concern to so many that the senate felt like it was important that we take action as several other states have done and continue to do.”
Hendren said the order is not intended to provide a “free pass” for bad actors.
“The only way you can get this immunity is if you make a good faith effort as a business to comply with CDC guidelines,” Hendren said. “We still expect businesses to protect their employees, provide safe workplaces, and this (order) ensures that is accomplished. You don’t get the immunity if you are a bad actor.”The three executive orders:
Executive Order 20-33 regarding employers and businesses:
All businesses and their employees shall be immune from civil liability as a result of exposure to COVID-19. Immunity does not apply to willful, reckless or intentional misconduct. A presumption that the actions are not willful or reckless if the business owner substantially complies with public health directives. Immunity does not extend to worker compensation benefits. Immunity is effective from today until the emergency is terminated.
Executive Order 20-34 regarding immunity for health care providers:
Health care workers and providers are authorized to use crisis standards of care to respond to treat COVID-19 patients. The health care providers as emergency workers are immune from civil liability. Immunity does not extend to willful, reckless, or intentional misconduct. Immunity is effective from today until the emergency is terminated.
Executive Order 20-35 regarding workers compensation:
Assures workers compensation coverage for employees. COVID-19 is considered an occupational disease under the law. COVID-19 shall be an exception to prohibition on compensation for ordinary diseases of life. There must be a causal connection between employment and the disease. Extends during the public health emergency.