US construction industry wants liability protection

By Jenny Lescohier20 May 2020

SandherrKHL

Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of AGC

US lawmakers continue to debate the latest coronavirus relief package with a price tag of US$3 trillion intended to assist Americans who’ve suffered economic losses as a result of the worldwide pandemic.

Last week, the US House of Representatives passed what is being called the ’phase 4’ stimulus bill, but Senate Republicans have called it “dead on arrival” and a Democratic “wish list,” according to a report from Newsday.

The US construction industry is struggling amid confusing government guidelines and a drastic drop in demand, prompting organisations such as Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) to advocate for for greater government assistance.

Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer of AGC, stated more needs to be done, including safe harbor language to protect firms from limitless litigation.

“It is encouraging to see House Democrats moving quickly on legislation intended to help the economy recover from the coronavirus,” he said in a statement. “But the proposal’s authors missed an opportunity to address some of the most significant challenges facing the industry.

“On the positive side, the measure includes some needed relief for state highway programs that have been hammered by declining gas tax revenue amid broad economic lockdown measures,” he continued. “The measure also includes an expansion of the employee retention tax credit that will benefit construction firms that have worked to retain employees. It authorises composite retirement plans, which hold great potential to address the challenges facing multi-employer retirement plans in which many construction firms participate and provides other needed pension relief.”

He said the bill also includes measures to help construction firms working on federal projects cope with schedule delays and other impacts related to the coronavirus.

“The measure, however, fails to include any safe harbor language to protect firms that are safeguarding workers and the public from the coronavirus from limitless litigation,” he noted. ”Meanwhile, the proposed repeal of the net operating loss carryback provision will punish firms, especially family-owned businesses, that suffered losses of $250,000 or more this year. This will make it even harder for these firms to retain staff. And the proposed expansion of the unemployment supplement through January 31 will make it more challenging for firms to rehire employees once demand begins to rebound.”

According to reports, President Donald Trump has called for any future package to include a payroll tax cut for employers, and Senate Republicans have been pushing for liability limits to protect employers against lawsuits filed in response to conditions in post-lockdown workspace.

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