On July 2, 2020, OSHA published a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) addressing topics related to COVID-19. The FAQs provide links to a number of employer and employee resources related to workplace safety and health topics. OSHA’s recommendations continue to align with and refer to CDC guidance on health and safety protocols, including returning to work, disinfecting, cleaning face coverings, healthcare settings, COVID-19 testing, and dealing with positive COVID-19 cases in the workplace.
OSHA does not regard face coverings as a form of PPE and, thus, does not require them or require employers to provide them (although state/local orders may). Rather, OSHA encourages the use of face coverings. OSHA does not regard face coverings as a substitute for social distancing.
As for returning to work, OSHA explains that all employers should conduct risk and hazard assessments for all types of workers and create plans to address the identified hazards. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, OSHA recommends that the employee report this information to the employer to trigger appropriate protocols, including steps to protect other employees. In addition, the agency refers to the CDC guidance on discontinuation of home isolation. The FAQs refer to OSHA’s Guidance on Returning to Work. Our alert on that guidance can be found here.
OSHA also recommends that employers train workers about a variety of health and safety topics related to COVID-19, including how it spreads, the risk of exposure on the job, cleaning and disinfection, and employer measures being taken to protect employees. The FAQs state that OSHA offers virtual outreach trainers through the OSHA Training Institute Educational Center.
The FAQs reiterate that Section 11(c) of the OSH Act prohibits retaliation against workers for raising a health and safety concern about the workplace related to COVID-19. The FAQs provide that if employees feel they are being exposed to coronavirus at work, OSHA encourages them to talk to the employer as a first step. OSHA recognizes that generally employees can be required to come to work during the pandemic, although there is an exception if the employee: (a) believes they face death or serious injury; and (b) unsuccessfully tried to get their employer to correct the condition, and (c) there is insufficient time to file an OSHA complaint. Employees also can file a complaint with OSHA—or, if retaliated against for complaining, may file a whistleblower protection complaint.
The FAQs provide that OSHA has specific guidance for the construction industry. Our alert on that guidance can be found here.
While much of the newly published FAQs are a reiteration of previous OSHA guidance as well as guidance from other federal agencies, they are a helpful resource for employers, as much of the prior guidance issued by OSHA, the CDC, and other federal agencies can be found throughout the FAQs.
Ballard Spahr’s Labor and Employment Group is closely following COVID-19 legislation and other developments related to COVID-19 as they impact the workforce. If you have questions, please contact any member of the Labor and Employment Group for advice about your situation.
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