Corporate America seeks legal protection for when coronavirus lockdowns lift

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Major U.S. business lobbying groups are asking Congress to pass measures that would protect companies large and small from coronavirus-related lawsuits when states start to lift pandemic restrictions and businesses begin to reopen.

Their concerns have the ears of congressional Republicans, though it is far from clear if the idea has the Democratic support it would need to pass in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) are seeking temporary, legal and regulatory safe harbor legislation to curb liabilities for employers who follow official health and safety guidelines. The Business Roundtable, which represents corporate chief executives, is also exploring ways to limit coronavirus liabilities.

Businesses want to make sure that they are not held liable for policy decisions by government officials, should employees or customers contract COVID-19 once operations resume. They also want protection from litigation that could result from coronavirus-related disruptions to issues like wages and hours, leave and travel.

“These are practical things to reassure businesses that they can confidently move to implement a reopening,” Neil Bradley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief policy officer, said in an interview.

The debate over when to ease restrictions intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease, which has killed more than 40,000 Americans, has recently entered a more politically charged phase with Republican President Donald Trump voicing support for scattered street protests aimed at ending the restrictions.

Public health officials warn that doing so prematurely risks sending infection rates soaring and further taxing an overwhelmed healthcare system.

The idea of protecting businesses from being sued by workers or customers has already found support in some quarters on Capitol Hill.

“There’s been a lot of discussion among conservative Republicans,” U.S. Representative Mike Johnson, a Republican member of Trump’s congressional task force on the economy, told Reuters. “On the Republican side, I think there would be broad support, probably near-unanimous support.”

The path to bipartisan legislation remains unclear in the Senate and House.

Representative Bobby Scott, Democratic chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, told Reuters that any legislation on employer liability would need to address the question of who is liable in cases of negligence.

“If you just want to immunize the business and stop there,” he said, “that’s not much of a conversation.”

Scott and other House Democrats introduced new legislation on Tuesday that would require employers to implement infectious disease exposure control plans to keep workers safe during the pandemic.


The coronavirus pandemic has upended American life, closing businesses, schools and churches, leading most states to ban social gatherings, and sickening more than 760,000 people. Its economic fallout has included throwing more than 20 million people out of work.

Undoing the economic devastation will require a regulatory and legal framework that recognizes the unprecedented risks to businesses, including essential businesses that have remained open throughout the health crisis, lobbyists argue.

“The nature and the contour of the problem that we’re facing here is starting to become much more evident to members of both parties. And I think there’s a growing understanding that we’re going to have to find a solution,” said Patrick Hedren, NAM’s vice president of litigation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled over the weekend that upcoming “CARES 2” legislation would prepare the path ahead to support the lives and “livelihoods” of Americans, without providing details.

The Trump administration’s “Opening Up America Again” guidelines put the onus on employers to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves to staff, test employees for symptoms, and trace infections.

At the same time, officials acknowledge the risk that economic activity could spread the virus and create deadly new hot zones of infection.

Business groups say there are ample precedents for congressional actions to safeguard businesses from liability, including legislation involving the anthrax attacks of 2001 and widespread Y2K fears in the 1990s that the arrival of the year 2000 would wreak havoc on computer systems.

The U.S. Chamber laid out a comprehensive return to work plan in an April 13 memo that advocates safe harbors to allow companies to implement temporary workplace policies and benefits, including the provision of PPE.

The protections would exempt PPE supplies and training from federal worker safety requirements and protect against litigation emanating from wage and hour issues, leave policy, travel restrictions, telework protocols and workers’ compensation.

The protections would not be available for companies guilty of gross negligence, recklessness or willful misconduct.

The U.S. Chamber’s recommendations, which run the gamut from medical liability for healthcare providers to securities litigation against publicly traded companies, are intended to cover the entire national business community.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone, Rosalba O’Brien and Jonathan Oatis)

Japanese women fight for right to wear glasses to work

Japanese women fight for right to wear glasses to work
By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Japanese women have taken to Twitter to demand the right to wear glasses to work after reports employers were imposing bans, in the latest social media outcry against rigid rules on women’s appearance.

The hashtag “glasses are forbidden” has been trending after a Japanese television show exposed businesses that were imposing bans on female staff.

“These are rules that are out of date,” one Twitter user posted under the hashtag, while another called the reasons given by employers “idiotic”.

One woman who works in restaurants tweeted that she was repeatedly told not to wear her glasses because it would appear “rude” and they did not go with the traditional kimono she wore.

The tweet, posted under the handle @wine_kimono last month, has since been shared nearly 13,000 times.

“If the rules prohibit only women to wear glasses, this is a discrimination against women,” Kanae Doi, the Japan director at global advocacy group Human Rights Watch, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

The latest outcry came after a campaign earlier this year that demanded Japanese companies stop forcing their female staff to wear high heels to work.

More than 21,000 people signed an online petition started by a Japanese actress earlier this year that called for a ban on compulsory high heels at work, in what has been known as the #KuToo movement.

In response, a Japanese minister said dress code expectations were “necessary and appropriate” in the workplace.

Japan was ranked 110 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap report, well behind other developed countries.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

U.S. labor market hot, jobs hard to fill: Fed’s Harker

FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to attend TechFair LA, a technology job fair, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RC1458E83C90

(Reuters) – U.S. employers are struggling to fill jobs and that is unlikely to change any time soon given the labor market is getting quite tight, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Patrick Harker said on Tuesday.

“We have a labor market with very little slack left, and the most common refrain I hear from employers is that they can’t fill the jobs they have,” Harker said in prepared remarks to a conference on higher education. “Those demographic and technological pressures are unlikely to recede.”

The unemployment rate fell to near a 49-year low of 3.7 percent last month.

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Seattle employers cut hours after latest minimum wage rise, study finds

FILE PHOTO: Protest signs are pictured in SeaTac, Washington just before a march from SeaTac to Seattle aimed at the fast food industry and raising the federal minimum wage and Seattle's minimum wage to $15 an hour December 5, 2013. REUTERS/David Ryder/File Photo

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – A Seattle law that requires many businesses to pay a minimum wage of at least $13 an hour has left low-wage workers with less money in their pockets because some employers cut working hours, a study released on Monday said.

Low-wage workers on average now clock 9 percent fewer hours and earn $125 less each month than before the Pacific Northwest city set one of the highest minimum wages in the nation, the University of Washington research paper said.

Even so, overall employment at city restaurants, where a large percentage of low-wage earners work, held steady.

Seattle, which has a booming economy and a strong technology sector, is midway through an initiative to increase its minimum wage for all employers to $15 an hour. The city is at the forefront of a nationwide push by Democratic elected officials and organized labor in targeting $15 for all workers.

“Most people will tell you there is a level of minimum wage that is too high,” Jacob Vigdor, a professor of public policy at the University of Washington and director of the team studying the increase, said in a phone interview. “There is a sense that as you raise it too high, then you get to a point where employers will really start cutting back.”

Many companies reached that point after Seattle, a city of nearly 700,000 residents, raised the minimum to $13 an hour for large employers beginning Jan. 1, 2016, according to the study.

Seattle’s labor market held steady when the minimum rose to $11 from $9.47 on April 1, 2015, the university found in a study released last year.

“Raising the minimum wage helps ensure more people who live and work in Seattle can share in our city’s success, and helps fight income inequality,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement in response to the study, which the city commissioned.

The federal minimum wage has stayed at $7.25 an hour since 2009, and the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress has opposed an increase.

Critics of minimum wage increases say they lead to layoffs and force some companies out of business.

The latest research from the University of Washington found no major reduction in hours or jobs at Seattle restaurants, in keeping with a finding in a study conducted by University of California, Berkeley, that was released last week.

Lawmakers in California, the nation’s most populous state, voted last year to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. Elected officials in several states, including New York and Oregon, and large cities such as Chicago have in the last two years approved their own minimum pay hikes.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler)

U.S. job growth slows sharply, unemployment rate falls to 4.5 percent

A fast food restaurant advertises for workers on its front window in Encinitas, California, U.S., September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. employers added the fewest number of workers in 10 months in March, but a drop in the unemployment rate to a near 10-year low of 4.5 percent pointed to a labor market that continues to tighten.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 98,000 jobs last month as the retail sector shed employment for a second straight month, the Labor Department said on Friday, the fewest since last May.

The economy enjoyed job gains in excess of 200,000 in January and February as unusually warm temperatures pulled forward hiring in weather-sensitive sectors like construction, leisure and hospitality. In March, temperatures dropped and a storm lashed the Northeast.

The unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 4.5 percent, the lowest level since May 2007.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls increasing 180,000 last month and the unemployment rate unchanged at 4.7 percent.

The economy needs to create 75,000 to 100,000 jobs per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population. The labor market is expected to hit full employment this year, which could

drive faster wage growth.

The weak payrolls gain could raise concerns about the economy’s health especially given signs that gross domestic product slowed to around a 1.0 percent annualized growth pace in the first quarter after rising at a 2.1 percent rate in the fourth quarter.

Average hourly earnings increased 5 cents or 0.2 percent in March, which lowered the year-on-year increase to 2.7 percent.

Given rising inflation, the moderate job gains and gradual wage increases could still keep the Federal Reserve on course to raise interest rates again in June.

The U.S. central bank lifted its overnight interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point in March and has forecast two more hikes this year. The Fed has said it would look at how to reduce its portfolio of bond holdings later this year.

The labor force participation rate, or the share of working-age Americans who are employed or at least looking for a job, held at an 11-month high of 63 percent in March.

Economists attribute some of the improvement in the participation rate to President Donald Trump’s electoral victory last November, which might have caused some unemployed Americans to believe their job prospects would improve. Trump has pledged to pursue pro-growth policies such as tax cuts and deregulation.

Construction jobs increased 6,000 after robust gains in January and February. Manufacturing employment gained 11,000 jobs as rising oil prices fuel demand for machinery.

Retail payrolls fell 29,700, declining for a second straight month. Retailers including J.C. Penney Co Inc and Macy’s Inc have announced thousands of layoffs as they shift toward online sales and scale back on brick-and-mortar operations.

Government payrolls increased 9,000 despite a freeze on the hiring of civilian workers.

((Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci))