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07 Sep

August 2020 Georgia HR Legal Updates

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Georgia Businesses May Opt-In or Opt-Out of Local Mask Orders

What happened?
Georgia Governor Kemp issued an August 15 Executive Order — effective through August 31 — that allows local governments to require individuals to wear face coverings, masks, face shields, or PPE if certain conditions are met.

What are the details?
The August 15 Executive Order protects businesses from liability from any local mask order and gives businesses the option to choose not to permit enforcement of a local mask order against individuals on their property.

The August 15 Executive Order allows local governments under a “Local Option Face Covering Requirement” to require individuals to wear face masks or face coverings when not able to maintain physical distancing from non-cohabitating persons if a local government entity meets the “Threshold Requirement.” “Threshold Requirement” is defined as “the prevalence in a county of confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the previous 14 days is equal to or greater than 100 cases per 100,000 people according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.”

The full ordinance can be downloaded by clicking here.

Employers in Georgia should review their face mask policies and determine if they would like to continue requiring masks or opt-out of the ordinance.


Georgia Expands Lactation Break Law

What happened?
Georgia passed HB 1090 requiring employers to provide reasonable break time to working mothers who desire to express breast milk at their worksite during working hours (“lactation breaks”).

What are the details?
The new law applies to employers with one or more employees and requires that working mothers be provided a location, other than a restroom, where they can express milk in private. It also requires that the lactation breaks be paid at the employee’s regular rate. Where an employee is salaried, employers cannot require employees to use paid leave for such breaks or reduce their salary as a result of such breaks.

The new law largely overlaps with existing federal law. However, there are important differences to consider. Under the federal FLSA, employers are required to provide reasonable unpaid lactation breaks to non-exempt employees for up to one year after a child’s birth.

Unlike federal law, Georgia’s law applies to all employees, requires break time to be paid, and does not contain a one-year time limit on granting of lactation breaks.

HB 1090 can be read here.

What do employers need to do?
Georgia employers should review and update their employee handbooks and policies regarding break times for employees.


Georgia Shields Businesses from COVID-19 Liability

What happened?
Georgia recently became the ninth state to shield businesses from liability stemming from COVID-19. Governor Kemp signed the Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act on August 5, 2020, and took effect immediately.

What are the details?
The Act amends the Georgia tort claims law to provide new definitions, exceptions, and a presumption against liability. There is a general shield against liability so long as the businesses did not act with gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, or reckless or intentional disregard in relation to someone being exposed and/or contracting COVID-19. Although the law appears focused on healthcare, it applies to any “healthcare facility, healthcare provider, entity, or individual.” The term “Entity” is defined extremely broadly to encompass almost any business.

In addition to the general shield against liability, businesses that provide a written warning are further protected by a rebuttable presumption that the person trying to sue assumed the risk of being exposed or contracting COVID-19 by entering the facility or engaging with the business. To be eligible to assert the presumption, businesses must post the warnings at a point of entry to the premises, and for special events, can print the warning on tickets or wristbands. Posted warnings must be in Arial font of at least one inch, which is 72 points or greater, be placed apart from all other text, and state:

Under Georgia law, there is no liability for an injury or death of an individual entering these premises if such injury or death results from the inherent risks of contracting COVID-19. You are assuming this risk by entering these premises.

The new law only provides a defense to lawsuits, meaning plaintiffs can still file suits and businesses will incur defense costs to defend against the lawsuit. The business is also potentially liable for damages if the plaintiff is able to prove the exceptions (gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, etc.) to the shield the statute provides. In addition, the law only protects Georgia businesses and their owners for potential or actual exposures to COVID-19 that occur through July 14, 2021. Georgia joined 21 other attorneys general urging Congress for a similar national law.

The full Act can be read here.

What do employers need to do?
Georgia employers should review the act and update their workplace policies to ensure they are following the required steps to defend themselves from COVID-19 litigation using this Act.


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