1 Timeline of Key Legislation

The COVID-19 virus first appeared in Wuhan, China in December 2019. By March 2020, it had spread to many different places on Earth. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic (World Health Organization 2020). By that point, COVID-19 had hit the United States. When it did, it shocked the system of workplace and labor market regulation in the United States. Unemployment skyrocketed. Workplaces became sites of infection risk and, in some cases, protest and litigation about that risk. State governors issued executive orders, including stay-at-home orders, that exempted certain businesses and workers as “essential”, largely following an advisory list of “essential” workers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency 2020). Over time, such “essential” workers – disproportionately racial minorities – were more likely to suffer COVID-19 infection (Poulson et al. 2020; Sze et al. 2020; Hawkins 2020; Goldman et al. 2020).

1.1 Federal Legislation

In response, the U.S. Congress passed five key pieces of legislation:

Figure 1.1: Timeline of Key Legislation

1.2 State COVID-19 Immunity Law

Some States provided, by executive order or statute, time-limited immunity to health care facilities and businesses from tort or other liability arising from COVID-19 exposure.


Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency. 2020. “Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in Covid-19 Response, Version 1.0.” Department of Homeland Security. https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/CISA-Guidance-on-Essential-Critical-Infrastructure-Workers-1-20-508c.pdf.

Goldman, Noreen, Anne R. Pebley, Keunbok Lee, Theresa Andrasfay, and Boriana Pratt. 2020. “Racial and Ethnic Differentials in COVID-19-Related Job Exposures by Occupational Status in the US.” medRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.11.13.20231431.

Hawkins, Devan. 2020. “Differential occupational risk for COVID-19 and other infection exposure according to race and ethnicity.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine 63 (9): 817–20. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23145.

Poulson, Michael, Alaina Geary, Chandler Annesi, Lisa Allee, Kelly Kenzik, Sabrina Sanchez, Jennifer Tseng, and Tracey Dechert. 2020. “National Disparities in COVID-19 Outcomes between Black and White Americans.” Journal of the National Medical Association. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnma.2020.07.009.

Sze, Shirley, Daniel Pan, Clareece R. Nevill, Laura J. Gray, Christopher A. Martin, Joshua Nazareth, Jatinder S. Minhas, et al. 2020. “Ethnicity and clinical outcomes in COVID-19: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” EClinicalMedicine, 100630. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100630.

World Health Organization. 2020. “WHO Announces Covid-19 Outbreak a Pandemic.” March 12, 2020. https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-emergencies/coronavirus-covid-19/news/news/2020/3/who-announces-covid-19-outbreak-a-pandemic.