Employee’s Premise Liability Claim Barred by Disclaimer / Release in Employment Agreement
Many times, an employee is required to sign a contract or agreement by the employer as a condition of employment. If the employee does sign, they are employed. If the employee does not sign, there is no employment. The catch-22 when it comes to employment agreements. If you have questions about what you are signing, do yourself a favor and consult with counsel. This way, you at least have an understanding as to what rights you may be foregoing.
There are times these employment agreements are later challenged in court by the employee when the employee leaves the company and argues that the contracts are NOT enforceable, i.e., they violate public policy. While such rulings do occur (particularly when dealing with certain non-compete agreements), an employee should not sign the contract with the premise that it will be deemed unenforceable at a later date. Instead, the employee should operate under the premise that the contract he/she signed as a condition of employment will be deemed to carry legal weight.
For instance, in Merlien v. JM Family Enterprises, Inc., 45 Fla. L. Weekly D1749a (Fla. 4th DCA 2020), the plaintiff was hired as a security guard by a security company. As a condition of employment, the plaintiff signed a workers’ compensation disclaimer where the plaintiff agreed that if he got hurt he will notify the company to obtain workers’ compensation benefits and will release rights stemming from the injury against any of the security company’s (employer) customers for injuries covered by workers’ compensation.
The plaintiff was assigned to work as a security guard at one of his employer’s companies. While working, the plaintiff slipped and fell on stairs. He filed a lawsuit against the customer under a premise liability theory. During the lawsuit, he argued that his disclaimer should be deemed unenforceable for violating public policy. The employee lost:
Here, it is undisputed that the plaintiff’s injury fell under the scope of the workers’ compensation statutes and that he received payment for his injuries under [his employer’s] policy. This result places the plaintiff in the same position as any [of his employer’s] employee[s] who may be injured while working directly for the employer on the employer’s premises. [His employer’s] disclaimer does not subvert the workers’ compensation scheme, but rather, fully utilizes the statutory scheme as the plaintiff’s sole means of recovery. In no way does the disclaimer interfere with “the quick and efficient delivery of disability and medical benefits to an injured worker.”
We also note that this waiver extends only to negligent conduct and does not infringe on the public policy prohibition of waiving liability for intentional torts, as the waiver only extends to injuries covered by workers’ compensation.
Merlien, supra (internal citations omitted)
Here, the plaintiff signed an employment agreement as a condition of employment and that agreement was deemed enforceable. The agreement protected the employer’s customers that were utilizing security guards from the employer. The employer had workers’ compensation and injuries were covered by the employer’s policy. The employee agreed this was his avenue of recovery for injuries covered by workers’ compensation and not a suit against the employer’s customers.
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