OSHA guidance for recording COVID-19 cases among your workers
How do you deal with an employee who has COVID-19? Traditionally we don’t expect many communicable illnesses to be work-related. As we can all agree, COVID-19 has made reality more complex.
In April OSHA released initial enforcement guidelines for recording cases of COVID-19, which were broad with little detail. On May 19, OSHA issued revised enforcement guidelines for recording cases of COVID-19 that are more specific and more enforceable. Summarizing the key points will help you prepare to manage a potential COVID case.
OSHA reporting requirements
First, make sure to periodically check for updates on OSHA’s COVID-19 web page. The CDC has guidance for many specific work locations and activities as well. These will provide direction on preventing COVID-19 cases in your workplace.
OSHA May 19th Guidelines now identify a case of COVID-19 recordable if:
1. The case is confirmed by a positive test, according to CDC criteria;
2. The case is work-related by OSHA Standards 1904.5 and 1904.7
The difficult part will be to determine if it is “reasonable” to believe the worker contracted the disease at work versus from off-work exposure. OSHA enforcement give some direction in this area for the employer.
- Ask employee how they may have gotten the disease at work.
- Ask about other potential exposures (requires sensitivity of employee’s privacy).
- Consider potential workplace exposures.
OSHA expects the employer to make a “reasonable” decision if the case is work-related, while also acknowledging that there is not a clear metric to make such a determination. The employer will need to monitor and document the overall status of COVID19 in the workplace and the community served, as well as keep adequate records of employer efforts, to evaluate if an illness is work-related or not. OSHA provides examples of the type of evidence to track, such as:
- Instances of multiple cases of COVID-19 among individuals who work together.
- Whether the affected employee has had close exposure to a co-worker or customer who has tested positive.
- If the worker has frequent, close contact with the public in an area with community transmission.
It is less likely that the illness is work related if:
- There is a single case in the workplace and the worker’s job duties do not include regular contact with the public.
- The worker has close, or frequent contact with someone (family, close friend) outside the workplace, who has had COVID and is potentially infectious.