The Winter of Our Discontent



The U.S. government has evacuated Americans from parts of Wuhan, China facing a viral outbreak. More than 100 people have died in China from the new virus, officially dubbed "2019 novel coronavirus.”  More than 2,700 others have been infected in more than a dozen countries. There are at least five confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus in the United States. Chinese officials are working to control the spread and reach of the virus and avoid a repeat of the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis, which caused some $40 billion to $50 billion in economic losses, mostly due to decreased travel and consumer spending.


In a related story, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data from the third week of the 2020. The FluView report, which includes data for the week ending January 18, 2020, indicates that influenza activity remains high, but severity is not considered “high” at this point. The CDC estimates indicate that there have been 15 million influenza illnesses reported, 140,000 hospitalizations, and 8,200 flu-related deaths this flu season.


Researchers at institutions around the globe are working on interrelated flu virus vaccines with funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global partnership launched at the Davos World Economic Forum in 2017. Researchers in Pennsylvania and the University of Queensland are working on vaccines for MERS-CoV, another strand of coronavirus and the flu, which actually poses a greater risk to Americans than the “new coronavirus.” Meanwhile, under a third grant, scientists at the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are racing to create a vaccine for the Wuhan strain of coronavirus. 


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an online resource on a new coronavirus outbreak that includes a link to CDC interim guidance, quick facts about the outbreak, and information on preventing exposures. OSHA notes that most U.S. workers are “not at significant risk of infection.” However, health care and airline workers, business travelers, and anyone involved in border protection are more likely to come in contact with people who have the virus. We shall effect this good lesson as a watchman, and keep you informed of developments in this story. 

All the World's a Stage


This week, the 751 representatives of the European Parliament (EP) will debate the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in Brussels. Pundits widely expect that the EP will ratify the UK-EU treaty, as most of the Withdrawal Agreement was endorsed by key parliamentary committees last week. This week's vote will mark the final stage of the ratification process ahead of the UK's exit from the EU on Friday. After the UK leaves the bloc, there will be an 11-month transition period in which the two sides hope to negotiate their future economic relationship. Trade talks are expected to begin in earnest in early March. We’ll be tracking the progress of these negotiations throughout the year. 


Listen intently to all the lawyers. President Trump's legal team made their final opening arguments, before recessing Monday. Next up? A question and answer period. The organizing resolution allows for 16 hours of questions and answers, but does not state whether the questions will be equally divided between the two sides. Of note, the Senate is poised to debate whether to subpoena witnesses by Friday. As of now, pundits question whether the GOP can carry the votes needed to block witnesses.  Stay tuned at #GBTheWay on Twitter for updated information on the impeachment trial this week. 

Making Our Way Around the Country


The Florida Senate Judiciary Committee voted in support of a measure that would increase the potential liability of government agencies in lawsuits. The state’s sovereign immunity laws limit judgments and awards against public entities. As initially filed, S.B. 1302 would have increased the limit to $1,000,000, but a Committee Substitute changed the new proposed limit to $500,000. The bill’s sponsor has dubbed her measure a “conversation starter,” so we fully expect the state’s public entities and plaintiff advocacy groups will engage on this issue during the balance of the 2020 legislative session.


Attorney General Kwame Raoul convened the first meeting of a task force that will facilitate collaboration between the Attorney General’s office, county prosecutors, and state agencies in order to better protect workers’ rights and law-abiding businesses in Illinois. The Worker Protection Unit Task Force, which was created under Senate Bill 161, will bring together the state’s leading regulatory agencies, law enforcement, and worker protection advocates to combat wage payment violations and unfair labor practices. The law also gives the Attorney General clear legal authority to investigate and bring enforcement actions against employers that commit wage theft and other workplace rights violations.


Taking a page from California’s Independent Medical Review (IMR) process, lawmakers in Missouri introduced legislation that would require workers’ compensation disputes to be resolved through a binding independent medical review. Under the legislation, up to three independent medical review organizations will be tasked with the binding review process. All medical records and information relating to a dispute must be submitted for review within 20 calendar days of the request. The state’s workers’ compensation department may review an independent review organization’s decision only in cases where there was a plainly erroneous finding of fact. The measure progressed through its second reading in the MO House. We have our eye on this Show Me State initiative.


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its Final Rule governing joint employer status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which prescribes wage, overtime, and recordkeeping rules for employers. The new joint employer rule contains a “four-part test” to determine whether the proposed joint employer “exercised substantial control over the terms and conditions of the employee’s work.” Barring any legal challenges, the rule will go into effect on March 16, 2020.


And finally this week, National Retail Federation analysts estimate that nearly 194 million adults will tune in on Sunday to watch the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs battle in South Florida for the Lombardi Trophy, American football’s most coveted prize. Viewers will spend an average of $88.65 on food, beverages, merchandise, and party supplies, for a total $17.2 billion nationwide during the game. In related news, we are tracking a new viral strain that is expected to bloom on Monday, causing some 17 million members of the workforce to call in sick. Enjoy the game!  

Courtesy of Gallagher Bassett's The Way

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