Businesses thinking of reopening their office spaces will have to navigate new safety requirements and liability risks. Hurricanes are taking longer to weaken after landfall. Hackers are targeting organizations involved in COVID-19 treatment and vaccine research.


Returning to the office may not be worth the legal risk.

Companies are hesitant about reopening offices due to the risk of exposing employees to COVID-19 and themselves to liability, says a new article from the Wall Street Journal, warning that office spaces that fail to comply with workplace-safety regulations face legal exposure if their employees contract the coronavirus.

WSJ said many companies that looked into reopening have decided the legal requirements are too challenging. Businesses must follow guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as regulations at the local and state levels, where new workplace safety requirements have been created to protect employees amid the pandemic. Regulations can range from the need to wear masks and ensure social distancing to more detailed guidance on installing touch-free water fountains and maintaining health records.

“Now, everywhere is a potentially hazardous environment,” one employment lawyer told WSJ.

Also holding companies back is the amount of coverage their workers comp policies will provide if employees say they became ill at work. WSJ noted that at least 17 states now have laws that assume an employee who contracts COVID-19 was infected in the office. Employment lawyers say asking employees to sign a waiver before returning to work is unlikely to offer protection in most states.

Reopening offices also presents some privacy-related challenges, WSJ said, such as how to store biometric information collected from employee temperature and symptom checks.

Source: “Companies Tiptoeing Back to the Office Encounter Legal Minefield,” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 16, 2020


Climate change making hurricanes more resilient.

Global warming is causing hurricanes to maintain their strength after landfall for much longer, according to a new study. The researchers found that over the past 50 years, the time it takes for a hurricane to weaken after landfall has increased by 94 percent.

In the late 1960s, a typical hurricane would lose roughly 75 percent of its intensity in the first day after landfall. But today, that same storm would be expected to weaken by just 50 percent in the first 24 hours after landfall, the study found. That means “a tremendous increase in the kind of destruction that can travel inland,” the researchers warned.

They analyzed data on landfalling hurricanes across the continental U.S. from 1967-2018 and then used computer simulations to determine which variables are allowing these storms to maintain strength over land. They found that while some of the slowdown in hurricane weakening is likely caused by a shift in storm tracks, the biggest factor is the increase in sea surface temperatures, which means the hurricanes are carrying more moisture. This gives the storms extra fuel to maintain their strength even hundreds of miles inland, leaving more of the population at risk, researchers said.

Sources: “Hurricanes are maintaining their strength farther inland as the planet warms, study finds,” CNN, Nov. 11, 2020; “Slower decay of landfalling hurricanes in a warming world,” Nature, Nov. 11, 2020


COVID-19 researchers are being targeted.

Hackers working for the Russian and North Korean governments have been targeting organizations involved in COVID-19 treatment and vaccine research around the globe, according to Microsoft.

The company said a Russian hacking group commonly nicknamed “Fancy Bear”—along with a pair of North Korean actors dubbed “Zinc” and “Cerium” by Microsoft—were implicated in recent attempts to break into the networks of seven pharmaceutical companies and vaccine researchers in Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States.

Source: “North Korean, Russian hackers target COVID-19 researchers: Microsoft,” Nov. 13, 2020

Topics Catastrophe Cyber Legislation Hurricane Russia COVID-19