The Los Angeles City Council recently adopted a trailblazing ordinance guaranteeing workers laid off in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic the right to be recalled back to their jobs. 

Such an ordinance ordinarily might be subject to criticism in the business community. But we believe that the Council should be applauded for at least one aspect of this new law:  It contains a “right to cure” any alleged violation.

Business owners in the Golden State frequently complain that “frivolous lawsuits” take time and resources away from their efforts to grow the economy. Worker advocates complain that employment lawsuits drag on and on, that justice is usually delayed, and hence, denied.  

The L.A. City Council’s new ordinance addresses these competing complaints by a simple and straightforward procedure.  Before bringing a lawsuit to enforce rights under the ordinance, a laid off worker must provide written notice to the employer of the alleged violations of the ordinance, and a statement of facts to support the claimed violation.  The employer then has fifteen days from receipt of that notice to “cure” any alleged violation.  If no such cure is implemented, then a lawsuit may proceed.

This common-sense approach works.  Workers who have lost their jobs and have a right to reinstatement just want their jobs back.  They don’t want a lengthy courthouse battle.  And the historic delays in our civil justice system will only be exacerbated by pandemic-caused court closures.  On the flip side, it’s our experience that the vast majority of business owners just want to comply with their legal duties and obligations.  If they have not, they appreciate the opportunity to right the wrong promptly, also without having to incur penalties and without having to endure a costly legal battle.  This is a win-win for both sides.

The right to cure also benefits the larger community in at least three ways:  by potentially easing court congestion, by removing at least one hurdle to the reopening of businesses and the re-starting of the economy, and by promoting stability in employment, easing the burden on the already strained unemployment compensation system.

Following LA’s lead, the City of Long Beach passed a similar ordinance, with a similar right-to-cure provision.  Other jurisdictions have taken a similar approach, including Washington State, where the state labor department may waive or reduce a civil penalty if the employer has taken corrective action to resolve the violation.  The state of Oregon will consider the employer’s history in taking all necessary measures to prevent or correct violations when determining a civil penalty assessment. Other locales, such as the city of Minneapolis, allow for the first violation by an employer to be “free.”

On the federal level, policymakers are considering similar approaches to help restart the economy.  These proposals would allow companies to reopen, make a sincere and good-faith effort to comply with applicable health and safety regulations, but not have to fear potentially crushing liability should an episode of the virus be contact-traced back to their place of business.

The right to cure strikes the appropriate balance, at the appropriate time.  We encourage local, state and federal elected officials to embrace this approach as they grapple with the difficult policy challenges that we all face in these unprecedented times.