Governor Evers signed 2021 Wisconsin Act 4 into law on February 26, 2021, providing Wisconsin employers with broad protection from civil law claims relating to COVID-19. Effective March 1, 2020, Wisconsin businesses, schools, and non-profit organizations are immune from civil liability for the death of or injury to any individual or damages caused by an act or omission resulting in or relating to exposure to COVID-19. The law applies retroactively to all claims arising on or after March 1, 2020, except it will not apply to lawsuits actually filed before March 1, 2020. Furthermore, immunity under the law will not apply to an entity whose actions or omissions involve reckless or wanton conduct or intentional misconduct.
2021 Wisconsin Act 4 provides employers substantial protection from civil lawsuits brought by employees, contractors, customers, students, vendors, and family members of these individuals. Despite the new protections, Wisconsin employers should continue to closely monitor and follow guidance from local, state, and federal public health officials on COVID-19 safety and mitigation measures. Failure to do so could constitute evidence of reckless, wanton, or intentional misconduct, which would negate the civil immunity afforded under the Act 4. Such a failure could also trigger claims under OSHA’s general duty clause for failure to provide employees a work environment free from recognized hazards. Employers should also note that employees can continue to seek remedies under applicable workers’ compensation statutes.