COVID-19 and Workplace Safety (as of March 18, 2020)

What’s the main workplace safety guidance we should follow?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, outlining steps employers can take to help protect their workforce. OSHA has divided workplaces and work operations into four risk zones,

according to the likelihood of employees’ occupational exposure during a pandemic. These risk zones are useful in determining appropriate work practices and precautions.

Very High Exposure Risk:

  • Healthcare employees performing aerosol-generating procedures on known or suspected pandemic patients.
  • Healthcare or laboratory personnel collecting or handling specimens from known or suspected pandemic patients.

High Exposure Risk:

  • Healthcare delivery and support staff exposed to known or suspected pandemic patients.
  • Medical transport of known or suspected pandemic patients in enclosed vehicles.
  • Performing autopsies on known or suspected pandemic patients.

Medium Exposure Risk:

  • Employees with high-frequency contact with the general population (such as schools, high population density work environments, and some high-volume retail).

Lower Exposure Risk (Caution):

  • Employees who have minimal occupational contact with the general public and other coworkers (such as office employees).

What if an employee appears sick?

If any employee presents themselves at work with a fever or difficulty in breathing, this indicates that they should seek medical evaluation. While these symptoms are not always associated with influenza and the likelihood of an employee having the COVID-19 coronavirus is extremely low, it pays to err on the side of caution. Retrain your supervisors on the importance of not overreacting to situations in the workplace potentially related to COVID-19 in order to prevent panic among the workforce.

OSHA recently issued guidance on OSHA recordkeeping requirements.  Go to OSHA’s webpage for more direct information.

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2 Responses to COVID-19 and Workplace Safety (as of March 18, 2020)

  1. Sandra Miller says:

    What happens if I meet the requirements of providing a safe work environment but my employee doesn’t feel safe to return to their position? Am I obligated to hold their job for them? Are the eligible for unemployment?

    • Chris Hilgenfeld says:

      Sandra, in general you are not obligated to hold the position open; however, it is a fact-specific inquiry. You should make sure you discuss this with legal counsel prior to making the decision. As to unemployment, ESD has issued a FAQ stating that – although decided on a case-by-case – workers are generally denied unemployment if there is work available and the employee refuses that work; that said, there are situations where ESD will find good cause and award the employee unemployment.

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