*Procare is not a legal expert. Please consult legal counsel for specific legal advice.
As child care centers start to reopen, owners may be concerned about potential legal liability if a child or staff member contracts COVID-19 while at their facility. It’s possible a family or employee could allege that your daycare center didn’t have a clean environment, failed to provide PPE or other protections. The fear is these charges could lead to employment claims and worker’s compensation filings or personal injury lawsuits.
How do you best protect your children and employees while safeguarding your business? While we aren’t legal experts, we’ve compiled common sense tips from around the industry to help.*
Minimize liability by following regulations
The good news for child care centers is that their industry is highly regulated and required to follow procedures that will protect children and staff from COVID-19.
This is an important step in limiting liability. Courts usually consider if you were taking reasonable precautions or implementing a standard of care that a sensible business owner would observe during COVID-19, such as closely following state and local authorities’ or the CDC’s guidelines for child care centers.
Be aware of different areas’ regulations
However, liability issues can vary greatly from state-to-state. If your child care center operates multiple sites in different locations, it’s important to be familiar with all the laws and guidelines in each area. Stay aware of rapidly changing rules so you won’t be uninformed, which could make your business vulnerable to liability issues.
Greg Horton, a lawyer in South Carolina, says businesses should pay close attention to what other companies are doing. “What I want my clients to do is meet the industry standards of care,” he said. “Do not fall behind—constantly stay updated and informed.”
Communicating clearly and regularly with families and employees on the concrete steps you’re taking to safeguard their children – and making sure you’re available to answer their questions – can go a long way in helping them feel more comfortable. Explain the regulations you’re following and your commitment to protecting everyone at your child care center.
Using a child care management solution to keep parents up-to-date about the new, more stringent procedures you’re implementing can make the communication process easier and less time-consuming.
Support legislative action to protect child care centers
Daycare centers already have thin margins and liability insurance can be a huge expense. There are efforts underway to pass laws that will give child care centers immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
Lawmakers are concerned that child care centers may choose to close permanently if they can be held liable for a child or employee contracting the coronavirus. Should this happen, the economic impact could be massive if working parents have fewer choices for child care. According to Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, many daycare centers in Pennsylvania did close, because they can’t risk the liability of being sued if a child contracts the COVID virus at their facility.
Some states are taking action: Pennsylvania legislators, for instance, are recommending changes to state law and an additional $10 million fund to protect child care centers from legal liability. To see if your state is taking action, check with your legislators and advocate changes to laws to protect child care centers.
Reopening is both an exciting and stressful time for your child care center. While you can never completely eliminate the risk of legal liability, proactively thinking through these issues and focusing on safety can protect your children and employees while minimizing liability risk.
*Please contact legal counsel if you have specific questions around your center and liability risks.