As many employers have probably realized by now, the rules set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) play an extremely important part in how businesses need to address the current COVID-19 pandemic. But complying with all these different rules and regulations can be confusing for even the savviest business owner, which is why OSHA recently published a new FAQ page to address common questions related to the virus. This blog post discusses some of the more pertinent issues for small business owners, but other concerns are addressed on the webpage, as well.
One of the biggest questions that we’ve been getting from employers is what steps to take in order to prevent an outbreak and protect employees at work. OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have published guidance for employers to address the pandemic. These resources include guidance on how to develop preparedness plans, clearly communicate those plans with employees, and effectively train employees on new procedures.
Employers are encouraged to assess worker exposure to the risks and hazards related to COVID-19. Furthermore, employers should implement infection prevention measures that are in compliance with OSHA standards. These measures include:
- Frequent and thorough hand washing or sanitizing with at least 60% alcohol sanitizer
- Encouraging employees to stay home when sick or exhibiting symptoms
- Encouraging the use of face masks
- Training employees on respiratory etiquette (e.g. cough into elbows), social distancing, and other protective steps
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have more information on other steps that employers should take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
What Do I Do When an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19?
In the event you have an employee who tests positive for COVID-19, it is likely that the employee will be advised to self-isolate or seek medical care. If not given such guidance by a healthcare professional, you should still require that the employee stay home until their symptoms subside and they can discontinue home isolation, pursuant to CDC guidance.
OSHA encourages employees to report to their employers if they have tested positive for COVID-19. Employers who become aware of a confirmed employee case need to take proper cleaning and disinfection measures to protect other employees. The CDC has recommendations for community-related exposure to someone with known or suspected COVID-19, recommendations for when employees can return to work after having COVID-19, and recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting the workplace to protect others.
Do I Need to Notify Other Employees Once There is a Confirmed Case?
Employers are not under any legal obligation to notify other employees if a coworker has COVID-19. However, employers are obligated to provide a safe workplace for employees and therefore take appropriate steps to protect other employees from exposure to the virus at work. This may involve cleaning and disinfecting the workplace, notifying other employees to monitor themselves for symptoms, or implementing a screening program. The CDC provides employers with guidance to determine which employees have been exposed and inform other employees of the potential exposure.
Any disclosure regarding a confirmed case of COVID-19 should still remain in compliance with confidentiality obligations related to medical information, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Information that is disclosed should comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws.
Recording Work-Related COVID-19 Cases
Generally speaking, employers are required to record cases of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses that are work-related and meet the general recording criteria. In some cases, employers are also required to report an incident to OSHA. But considering how contagious COVID-19 is, in and out of the workplace, it is extremely difficult to determine if any case of COVID-19 is work-related or not. This is only further exacerbated when an employee has been potentially exposed both inside and outside of their workplace.
For information on how to navigate the difficult work-related determination, see our previous blog post on OSHA’s updated enforcement guidance for recording.
Are Any of OSHA’s Regulations Waived During the Pandemic?
No. All of OSHA’s rules and regulations remain in full force and effect. However, OSHA recognizes the difficulty involved in complying with certain requirements during this pandemic, which is why it is exercising temporary enforcement discretion for certain OSHA provisions. OSHA has provided employers with a Standards page that lists all enforcement discretion memoranda related to COVID-19.
What If an Employee Reports My Business to OSHA?
It is extremely important for employers to remember that there are a number of protections that are afforded to employees when it comes to work safety. Under no circumstances should you retaliate against an employee for making a report to OSHA or otherwise raising health and safety concerns related to this pandemic.
The best way to avoid such complaints is to follow government guidance on cleaning and disinfecting your workplace and implementing policies to curb the spread of infection, such as mandatory PPE and social distancing. If you become aware of a report that is made against your business, or are subject to an inspection by OSHA or the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), it is advisable to speak with an attorney to help you navigate the particulars of complying with a government entity.
Other General Information
OSHA has a COVID-19 Safety and Health Topics page that is a great starting point for the most up-to-date guidance on OSHA requirements. Some of the resources include Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, Worker Exposure Risk to COVID-19, a list of relevant OSHA standards for COVID-19, and temporary enforcement guidance in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, it’s extremely important to remember that OSHA is not the only entity you need to be concerned about when it comes to compliance with COVID-19 regulations. State and local laws play a large role, as well. For example, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recently has started to require that if two or more employees report having COVID-19 related symptoms, or test positive for COVID-19, the employer should notify their local health department within 24 hours of being informed of such. While OSHA is important to be aware of, there are other government entities and laws that your business needs to stay on top of in order to stay in compliance.
Should you have any questions about recording vs reporting for OSHA purposes, whether you are exempt from any obligations under OSHA regulations, or any other laws that may affect your business, or would like to schedule an initial consultation, please contact Waltz, Palmer & Dawson, LLC at (847) 253-8800 or contact us online.
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