New City Ordinance Prevents Retaliation Against Employees Who Obey COVID-19 Governmental Orders – Yet Another Reason to Ensure Your Workplace Is Following All COVID-19 Recommendations

By: Mark M. Trapp and Aaron R. Gelb

Recently, the Chicago City Council approved for immediate implementation a new ordinance prohibiting employers from taking adverse action against an employee obeying orders related to COVID-19 issued by the Mayor of Chicago, Governor of Illinois or Chicago Department of Public Health. The ordinance also encompasses employees staying at home to minimize transmission or while experiencing symptoms of the virus.Picture1

The ordinance applies to “Covered Employees,” who perform at least two hours of work in a two-week period for an employer while physically present in the geographic boundaries of the City of Chicago.

In addition to employees complying with governmental orders, the ordinance prohibits adverse action by an employer against any “covered employee” who, in compliance with the directive of a treating healthcare provider, remains at home while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or obeys an isolation or quarantine order. The ordinance also Continue reading

COVID-19 OSHA Recordkeeping and Reporting: New OSHA Guidance Reverses Course on Work-Relatedness

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

There are myriad workplace safety and health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, but one OSHA regulatory obligation about which we have received countless questions the past three months is the requirement to record on an OSHA 300 Log and/or pick up the phone and report to OSHA work-related cases of COVID-19.  This article explains the circumstances the OSHA recordkeeping and reporting obligations related to employee COVID-19 cases.

The Cold and Flu Exemption to OSHA Recordkeeping

By regulation, the common cold and flu are exempt from OSHA’s recordkeeping and reporting requirements (29 CFR Part 1904.5(b)(2)(viii)):

“An injury or illness occurring in the work environment that falls under one of the following exceptions is not work-related, and therefore is not recordable…. The illness is the common cold or flu.”

The rationale for the exemption is that the spread of the cold and flu is so pervasive and potential exposures are ubiquitous within and outside the workplace, so it can be nearly impossible to identify the specific source of infection.

Despite great personal sacrifice around the country in the form of mass self-quarantine, the scale of infection of COVID-19 continues to spread like the flu and common cold, with even more dire consequences.  Nevertheless, OSHA has repeatedly made clear that COVID-19 is not subject to the cold/flu recordkeeping exemption:

“While 29 CFR 1904.5(b)(2)(viii) exempts recording of the common cold and flu, COVID-19 is a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job.”

OSHA has explained that the cold and flu recordkeeping exemption is not just an OSHA policy or enforcement philosophy.  Rather, it is a part of the regulation itself that went through APA notice-and-comment rulemaking.  And the scientific reality is, COVID-19 is not the cold or flu.  It is a different virus.  So without another rulemaking (that history suggests would take longer than it will to eradicate this illness), OSHA cannot just declare this serious illness to be exempt from recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

Indeed, over a series of guidance documents in April and May, OSHA has doubled-down on its decision that employers must spend time determining whether cases of COVID-19 are more likely than not work-related.

Determine Recordability of COVID-19 Cases

Consistent across all of OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance has been the basic structure for evaluating whether an employee’s COVID-19 case is recordable.  Employers will only be responsible for recording a case of COVID-19 if it meets the following criteria: Continue reading

COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan: What Is It and Why Does Every Employer Need One?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As states across the country begin to loosen or lift stay-at-home and shutdown orders, many workplaces that had been idled, have just begun to or will soon resume operations.  Many states and localities are setting as a precondition for reopening, a requirement that they develop and implement a written, site-specific COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan.

Regardless of any state or local requirement to develop such a plan, any business that operates without an Exposure Control Plan will be potentially exposed to a number of legal or business risks, such as an OSHA citation, being shutdown by a state or local health department, and/or becoming a target for a wrongful death action brought by families of employees, temporary workers, customers, vendors and/or guests. They should also plan to deal with a workforce that is scared and anxious about the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which may result in employees refusing to work (which would disrupt and complicate scheduling) and/or making regular and frequent complaints to OSHA about the purported unchecked hazard in your workplace.  Responding to these complaints will take time and cost money, distracting your business from its mission.  Retaliation claims under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act is another foreseeable consequence of a scared workforce.  Without an Exposure Control Plan in place, the legal vulnerabilities will be real and are potentially significant.

We focus below on five key reasons employers must develop a written COVID-19 Exposure Control and Response Plan.  But first, what is an exposure control plan?

What is an Exposure Control and Response Plan?

When OSHA identifies a serious safety or health hazard, it usually requires employers to develop a written program including the measures employers will take to counteract the hazard.  For example, OSHA requires written lockout/tagout programs to protect against hazardous energy; respiratory protection programs and process safety management programs to protect against hazardous chemical exposures; and emergency action plans to protect against the risk of fires in the workpalce.  Simply put, a COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan is a written safety plan outlining how your workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19, covering issues such as:

  • How you will facilitate social distancing in your workplace;
  • What engineering or administrative controls you will implement when workers cannot remain at least 6′ apart;
  • The steps that you will take to ensure employees comply with personal hygiene practices;
  • What types of protective equipment you will provide for various tasks and operations;
  • What enhanced housekeeping protocols will be implemented for frequently touched surfaces, tools, and machines;
  • What you are doing to prevent/screen sick workers from entering the workplace;
  • How you will respond to confirmed or suspected cases among your workforce; and
  • How you will communicate with and train your workforce on these mitigation measures.

Five Reasons to Develop a Written COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan

First, whether you have remained open because you are an essential business or plan to reopen soon, you may soon find yourself required to Continue reading

March Update on How Employers Can Respond to COVID-19 with FAQs

By:  Kara M. Maciel and Beeta B. Lashkari

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Since publishing our previous post last month, there have been a number of significant developments related to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus – now officially called “COVID-19.”  Notably, during the week of February 23, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) reported community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 in California, Oregon, and Washington.  Community spread in Washington resulted in the first death in the U.S. from COVID-19, as well as the first reported case of COVID-19 in a health care worker, and the first potential outbreak in a long-term care facility.

Recent Developments and Federal Guidance

  • CDC has published an Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers, cautioning employers to use the guidance to determine the risk of the Coronavirus, and not to use race or country of origin to make a determination. The guidance covers recommended strategies for employers to use, including: (1) actively encouraging sick employees to stay home; (2) separating sick employees; (3) emphasizing staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees; (4) performing routine environmental cleaning; and (5) advising employees before traveling to consult CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices and other CDC guidance.  Additionally, the guidance states that if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

Continue reading

How Employers Can Respond to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

By:  Kara M. Maciel and Beeta B. Lashkari

Medical ExamThe 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“2019-nCoV” or “coronavirus”) is a respiratory illness that, with its spread to the United States, is raising important issues for employers.  This guide explains the outbreak, the legal implications of it, and how employers should be responding now to employees who might have the virus, are caring for affected family members, or are otherwise concerned about their health in the workplace.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

First detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, 2019-nCoV is a respiratory virus reportedly linked to a large outdoor seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread.  However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread is occurring.  At this time, it is unclear how easily the virus is spreading between people.  Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, runny nose, headache, sore throat, and the general feeling of being unwell.  The incubation period is approximately 14 days, during which time an individual may see no symptoms but may still be contagious. Continue reading