Two government agencies recently released updated “interim guidance” for employers responding to COVID-19 in the workplace. This is important information for employers in essential and critical businesses who still have active workplaces. On April 8, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control provided new guidance on treatment of workers with suspected or confirmed exposure to COVID-19. On April 10, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released new guidance recording cases of COVID-19.
- The CDC advises that “critical infrastructure workers” may continue working following exposure to COVID-19, provided they are asymptomatic and additional precautions are taken.
- Critical infrastructure workers include workers in food and agriculture, critical manufacturing, information technology, transportation, energy, government facilities, janitorial staff, law enforcement, 911 center employees, hazardous materials responders, and Fusion center employees.
- Potential exposures are defined as being a household contact or being within 6 feet of an individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. The contact must have been within 48 hours before individual became symptomatic.
Additional precautions that an employer should take include:
- Pre-screening employees by taking temperature and assessing symptoms before shifts begin. Ideally, this should be done before a worker enters the worksite.
- Asking an employee to self-monitor both during and between shifts, following the employer’s occupational health program.
- Requiring exposed employees to wear a mask at work for 14 days after exposure. Employers can provide masks or employees can wear their own.
- Requiring all employees to abide by the 6-foot social distancing rule during shifts, as permissible. Employees should not share equipment that must be placed near their mouths or noses.
- Cleaning and disinfecting all workspaces on a frequent and regular basis, and increasing air exchanges in rooms.
- If an employee becomes symptomatic at work, they should be sent home immediately. Employers should track all other employees who had contact with the ill employee in the 48 hours before becoming symptomatic. Any employee who was within 6 feet of the ill employee should be considered to be exposed to COVID-19. Keep in mind that employee privacy protections still apply.
- If an employer can identify that an employee contracted COVID-19 through worksite exposure, the employer must record that injury in OSHA logs as a “work-related illness.” COVID-19 is considered a recordable illness and employers must record cases of COVID-19 if the following are true:
- The employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19;
- The illness is considered to be work-related; and
- An illness is considered to be work-related, “if an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness. Work-relatedness is presumed for injuries and illnesses resulting from events or exposures occurring in the work environment,” unless an exception is met.
- The illness involves one or more of the recording criteria, including medical treatment beyond first aid or days away from work.
- However, because it may be difficult for employers to determine if an employee with COVID-19 contracted COVID-19 at work, OSHA will not enforce its record-keeping requirements on employers to make “work-relatedness” determinations, except when there is objective evidence that the exposure was work-related and that evidence is reasonably available to the employer.
- Note: this exception applies only to employers outside of the healthcare industry, first responder organizations and correctional facilities.
The legal and HR team at Lake Effect is closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace and will continue to provide our clients with updates as they are available. Check out our COVID-19 resource page for all of our pandemic-related legal updates and HR best practices. The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to help. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-844-333-5253.