In response to the recent nationwide outbreak of COVID-19, the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has issued guidance to employers regarding COVID-19 in the workforce. Generally speaking, it is advisable for employers to develop an action plan to reduce exposure, monitor and report the spread of COVID-19, and generally prepare for business interruption. Depending on the jurisdiction, certain businesses are required to be closed to the public under executive order (Oregon and Washington, for example). Importantly, OSHA has also reiterated that an employee contracting COVID-19 at work is a reportable work-related illness, just like an on-the-job injury, and may cause an employee to be eligible for workers compensation. Businesses may already be aware that the common cold and the flu are usually exempt from reporting, but OSHA has clarified that COVID-19 is not exempt.
Business action plans will vary by industry. While certain industries have a higher likelihood of contracting and spreading COVID-19, such as health care providers, airline workers, and waste management services, all industries have some level of risk. Industries like construction, which may not allow for employees to work remotely, are uniquely affected. To the extent possible, all employers should institute measures to maximize social distancing, such as temporarily limiting employment to essential services only.
Some businesses have the luxury of allowing employees to work remotely, but employers should still take precautions to make sure to mitigate normal business risks. For example, employees who work from home on unsecured networks may accidentally jeopardize data security. Businesses who suffer from data loss or who inadvertently leak private or even confidential customer information will be held responsible for such damages despite the COVID-19 outbreak. Certain cybersecurity and other insurance policies may restrict or prohibit employees to work from home. For these reasons, businesses should critically consider all aspects of their action plan to limit unforeseen adverse consequences.
Employees who are infected with COVID-19 should be isolated from the remainder of the workforce, but businesses should continue to follow normal sick time policies and family or medical leave laws. Downsizing may be part of an employer’s action plan, but terminating employment simply because an employee has contracted COVID-19 will likely subject an employer to liability. As a reminder, violations of state and federal leave laws can result in statutory damages and attorney fees. Businesses should respond quickly to COVID-19, but not so quickly to risk unnecessary litigation.
If you have questions or concerns about your business and how to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, please contact Navigate Law Group to schedule a meeting, which may be conducted by phone or video conference.
For more information about OSHA’s position on COVID-19, please check out OHSA’s website by click the button below:
For a list of Governor Kate Brown’s executive orders impacting Oregon businesses, please click the button below:
For Governor Jay Inslee’s recent Washington proclamation, please click the button below to learn more:
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Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue, you should consult an attorney.