Attorney says businesses could face legal action if ignoring possible COVID-19 cases

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - As the threat of COVID-19 disease spreads, so does the fear of the virus. Some businesses are closing their doors to prevent the spread, but others are not and many employees tell WHNT News 19 they're afraid they will be exposed to the virus at work.

Attorney Mark McDaniel says the health of a company's employees should come first, and they should take the pandemic seriously.

"If you get something from an employee, you react to that," said McDaniel, referring to an employee having information about a COVID-19 exposure. "You take care of that situation. Your number one job is to take care of your employees first."

If an employer decides to intentionally disregard the possibility of a COVID-19 case, they could be putting their employees and themselves in harm's way.

"If an employer knows or has reason to know that there is an employee that has COVID-19 or has been around somebody with COVID-19 or been tested for COVID-19 and they don't do something about that, and some employee gets sick or dies from that -- they're going to get sued," said McDaniels.

He added that the court could consider withholding the information about a COVID-19 case as an intentional act, rather than negligence. McDaniel said it could go as far as "intentional infliction of nervous shock and mental distress."

If an employee has COVID-19, McDaniel says the best thing for a company to do is to take action. That might mean disinfecting the work area, sending employees home, or closing down the business for a few weeks. McDaniel says the employer needs to use their best judgment.

"What you're risking when you get that word that this person may have this, and you don't react to that, and somebody gets real sick or dies because of that, you better get ready for that lawsuit," said McDaniel. "This stuff is so contagious and if they're around a lot of different people, then all those people need to be notified."

If you're an employee of a business who has reason to believe you or a co-worker could have been exposed to the virus, McDaniel says to immediately tell your employer. If no action is taken, contact the state health department. McDaniel says they have the authority to close down the business, if deemed necessary.

WHNT News 19 reached out to the Huntsville Police Department to ask if they would get involved if an employer blatantly disregards a positive COVID-19 case. Lt. Michael Johnson said, "For now we will answer those complaints, there will be warnings, reports made and then enforcement."

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