Approximately one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus continues to disrupt many business’ operations.
One way employers and employees can help protect against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is by committing themselves to making their workplaces as safe as possible.
To address COVID-19’s adverse impact on the workplace, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), on January 29, 2021, released guidance (the “Guidance”) to assist all employers and employees to create a COVID-19 prevention program to help mitigate against and prevent the virus’ spread in the workplace.
The full text of the Guidance can be found here.
The Guidance recommends that employers take the following 15 steps to create an effective COVID-19 prevention program:
- Assign a workplace coordinator to be responsible for COVID-19 issues on the employer’s behalf.
- Identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work.
- Identify a combination of measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, in line with the principles of the “hierarchy of controls” (i.e. elimination/substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls and safe work practices, and PPE). A full description of the “hierarchy of controls” can be found here.
- Consider protections for workers at higher risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices.
- Establish a system for communicating effectively with workers and in a language they understand.
- Educate and train workers on the employer’s COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in a language they understand.
- Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine, to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
- Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers.
- Isolate workers who show symptoms at work.
- Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been in the facility.
- Provide guidance on screening and testing.
- Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths.
- Implement protections from retaliation and set up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.
- Make a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees.
- Do not distinguish between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not. Even workers who are vaccinated must continue to take protective measures.
Although the Guidance is advisory and creates no new legal obligations, it expresses OSHA’s position on proper steps to be taken by employers under OSHA’s control during the pandemic. In addition, employers are generally legally obligated to provide a safe and healthful workplace for their employees, regardless of the presence of a pandemic.
So, if an employer is subject to a COVID-19-related workplace employment claim, its adoption of a COVID-19 prevention program consistent with the Guidance can be evidence of the employer’s efforts to provide a safe and healthy workplace for its employees.
FOS can help your company create a prevention program consistent with the Guidelines. If you would like to do so, or have any questions regarding the Guidance or any other legal matter, contact FOS.