You Are Excused: Force Majeure and the Workplace in the COVID-19 Era


Peter A. Steinmeyer, Member of the Firm, and Amy Bharj, Senior Counsel, in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s Chicago office, co-authored an article in SHRM, titled “You Are Excused: Force Majeure and the Workplace in the COVID-19 Era.”

Following is an excerpt:

COVID-19 has changed the workplace. Travel restrictions, shelter-in-place orders and mandatory closures have meant that it is far from business as usual for nearly all employers. The unprecedented events of the last few weeks have forced many employers, facing major business disruptions or closures, to make tough decisions about hiring, layoffs, furloughs and compensation.

Some of these employment decisions may implicate written employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements that contain “force majeure” clauses that excuse performance if certain events should occur. Black's Law Dictionary defines “force majeure” as “an event or effect that can be neither anticipated nor controlled.”

The frequency of force majeure clauses varies by industry. In health care employment agreements, force majeure clauses are more common because disaster planning is particularly prevalent in the healthcare industry. Other industries may follow suit in the wake of this pandemic.