The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued guidance to employers in the form of best practice recommendations for protecting employees from COVID-19. Intended only for workplaces outside the healthcare industry, OSHA’s “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace” focuses on the creation of a COVID-19 prevention program which prioritizes employee involvement, communication and training.
Below is a summary of OSHA’s latest recommendations:
- Assign a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues on the employer's behalf.
- Identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, including a hazard assessment to identify potential workplace hazards (as related to COVID-19).
- Identify measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 which are in line with the principles of the hierarchy of controls.
- Consider protections for at-risk workers such as older adults and those with underlying medical conditions who may be at risk for severe illness from COVID-19. These employees may be legally entitled to "reasonable accommodations" that protect them from the risk of contracting COVID-19.
- Establish a system for effective employee communication, where workers are asked to report to the employer COVID-19 symptoms, possible COVID-19 exposures, and possible COVID-19 hazards at the workplace.
- Educate and train workers on COVID-19 policies and procedures, including offering basic facts about COVID-19 (how it is spread, the importance of physical distancing, use of face coverings, and hand hygiene); and explaining how workplace contract tracing efforts are handled.
- Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine in order to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, and ensure that absence policies are non-punitive.
- Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers by allowing employees to work from home, or work in an area isolated from others, when possible.
- Isolate workers who show symptoms at work by separating them from other workers, customers, and visitors, and encouraging them to seek medical attention once they are home.
- Adopt enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols, such as those recommended by the CDC, especially in the event of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases within the workplace facility.
- Provide employees with guidance on screening and testing based on state or local guidance and priorities.
- Record and report work-related cases of COVID-19 infections and deaths on OSHA's Form 300 logs.
- Implement protections from retaliation for employees, such as creating an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.
- Make the COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees, and provide information and training on the benefits and safety of vaccinations.
- Require all employees to continue following COVID-19 protective measures, even after vaccination.
- Review other applicable OSHA standards that apply to protecting workers from infection.
Implications for Employers:
Although OSHA’s latest guidance does not create any additional legal obligations for employers, it is possible that mandatory federal standards may be on the horizon, which could be stricter than current requirements.
For now, employers should review their existing COVID-19 policies and update them, as needed, to ensure consistency with OSHA guidelines, as well as with any applicable state and local COVID-19 mitigation regulations. Also, employers are encouraged to communicate changes in workplace policies and procedures with their employees.
Finally, we recommend consulting OSHA’s FAQs relating to the COVID-19 pandemic for more specific information on how to mitigate COVID-19 in the workplace.
If you have additional questions about OSHA's recent guidance, or if you would like assistance with your compliance efforts, please contact Christy Kotowski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christy Kotowski serves Senior Counsel on Outside GC's California team. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Christy handles a broad range of complex workplace issues at the federal, state and local levels. Previously, she worked as in-house employment counsel for several large companies, and started her legal career in the Silicon Valley office of Morrison & Foerster, one of California’s oldest and largest law firms. She can be reached at email@example.com or 510-748-0930.