The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted every aspect of American life; the workplace has in no way been spared. Consider the explosion in unemployment, the ravages that swept and continue to sweep through nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the heroic sacrifices asked (and sometimes demanded) of “essential workers,” the increased risks of health care workers in every category, the requirement that retail workers become PPE enforcement agents, and on and on. Here is an update.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued guidance on COVID-19 and the workplace. Among the many interesting aspects of the guidance are the following.
- Notice of Virus Exposure
Employers are not required to notify coworkers that a fellow employee has contracted COVID-19. OSHA notes that other statutes may even prohibit disclosure of coworkers’ medical information. Employers who do provide notice to exposed co-workers should not disclose the names of employees who test positive.
The COVID-19 pandemic will likely increase the number of whistleblower and retaliation complaints from inside the workplace. Complaints typically allege that employers have not provided a safe and healthy work environment and that the plaintiffs have been disciplined or terminated for raising objections. OSHA reminds employers that the Occupational Safety and Health Act prohibits them from retaliating against workers for exercising rights. OSHA recommends that employees who believe they have suffered retaliation to make a complaint as soon as possible.
- Construction Industry
OSHA directs construction industry employers to its industry-specific guidance, and reminds that OSHA’s requirements for respiratory protection in construction that were in place before COVID-19 are still in effect.
- Healthcare Industry
- OSHA directs healthcare industry employers to its previously issued guidance (here and here), as well as CDC guidance.
- OSHA’s healthcare industry guidance is very specific and applies to healthcare provided outside of hospitals, including home healthcare, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and chiropractic care.
If you or a loved one is being exposed to dangerous working conditions, especially if they affect a number of employees in the same situation, you should act promptly to seek advice. This is important both in order stop the unsafe practices, and because employment protection laws have strict filing deadlines which could bar your claim. Pelton Graham is here to help.