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9:45am - 11:00am
The Westin Copley
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3:00pm - 5:00pm
Another Age Productions
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4:30pm - 8:00pm
Boston Convention and Exhibition Center
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We are developing an ecosystem of corporations and partners with the influence and buying power to transform economic inclusion for minority business enterprises (MBEs).
The Fierce Urgency of Now Festival brings Boston’s diverse young professionals together with business leaders, organizations and their peers to build connection, advance careers and ignite positive change.
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For nearly 30 years, the Chamber’s Women’s Network has connected female professionals of all background and career levels. Today, our Women’s Network is the largest in New England, strengthening the professional networks of women each year.
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Businesses of all sizes and types face increased civil liability risks during Massachusetts’ phased economic reopening because there are only ways to mitigate, not eliminate, a COVID-19 infection. Employers are eager to protect their workforces and customers, but they need to be protected from damaging litigation if they have taken actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 outlined in state and federal guidance. Small businesses are particularly fragile, with many already at jeopardy of permanent closure, and one frivolous lawsuit could be an existential risk.
A liability safe harbor is a temporary protection for businesses facing exceptional circumstances outside of their control. It limits the scope of civil liability they are subject to during a specific emergency. Typically, these protections require businesses to follow relevant government guidance and include limitations that ensure action can be taken against employers in the case of gross negligence or misconduct. In the case of COVID-19, a liability safe harbor would protect businesses that follow the government’s safety guidance and sector-specific protocols from pandemic-related lawsuits.
Lawmakers can encourage a smooth reopening by placing temporary limits on legal liability in areas including worker privacy, discrimination, employment practices, and product manufacturing. Safe harbors have been established in the past to protect businesses from exceptional risk in extraordinary situations, and a similar solution should be pursued now.
A Long List of Liability Concerns
Businesses face a number of different legal risks throughout the economic reopening. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce outlined a comprehensive list of these risks in their April 13th letter to Congress regarding the national return to work. Actions taken so far in Massachusetts and by the U.S. Congress have addressed pressing issues of exposure liability and safe workplace requirements for health care facilities and volunteer health care workers on the frontlines, but more is needed to protect all employers and businesses as they return to a ‘new normal’. Temporary liability safe harbors will protect businesses who are following state and federal guidelines from civil liability risks, including:
Precedent for Liability Safe Harbor Legislation
Government has implemented liability safe harbors during past emergencies to protect employers, employees, and the economy. These protections provide businesses the confidence that if they operate according to government guidance they will be protected from litigation. Three significant examples of such safe harbors in the past 20 years are the Y2K Act, the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, and the SAFETY Act.
While a broad federal liability safe harbor would be most effective, actions already taken in Massachusetts and across the country are helpful, including:
State and Federal Dynamics
Jurisdiction for a broad safe harbor is challenging to establish and requires coordination between multiple federal agencies and state governments. Reopening strategies vary across states and a clear federal solution to liability concerns is preferable. With a federal liability safe harbor in place, states can offer additional guidance for businesses. However, without federal action to protect employers from liability, Massachusetts will need to address these concerns by adopting its own legislation.