As the novel coronavirus COVID-19 sweeps across the country, you may be wondering how it fits into your current knowledge of workplace illness or injury, such as documenting its effects among your employees.
While the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) does not yet have formal standards on reporting COVID-19 infections specifically, the agency has published criteria regarding the recording of COVID-19 cases.
Criteria for Recording
Every injury or illness that is recorded on a 300 log must meet several criteria:
- It must be work related; and
- Is a new case; and
- Meets one or more of the general recording criteria of §1904.7 or the application to specific cases of §§1904.8 through 1904.12
What does OSHA consider to be “work related”? Work related means that an event or exposure in the work environment has either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or it significantly aggravated a pre-existing condition or illness. OSHA says that we can presume work relatedness unless one of the exceptions from §1904.5(b)(2) applies.
So, what is the “work environment”? The work environment is the where the employee works or are present as a condition of their employment and includes physical locations as well as the equipment and other materials the employee uses during the course of performing work.
How does COVID-19 factor in?
COVID-19 may have very similar symptoms to the flu and to the common cold and as a result, the temptation might be to include it - 1904.(b)(2)(viii) - which exempts the common cold or flu from the reporting requirement however, OSHA is very clear that serious contagious diseases are not included in this exemption.
If faced with a sick employee who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, employers should ask the following questions:
- Is the case a confirmed case of COVID-19? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) considers a person whose respiratory specimen tests positive for COVID-19 at a state or local lab as “presumptive positive”, and a person whose respiratory specimen tests positive for COVID-19 at CDC lab as “confirmed positive”
- Is the case work related? (As defined by 29 CFR 1904.5)
- Does the case involve one or more of the general recording criteria listed in 29 CFR 1904.7 (g. medical treatment beyond first-aid, days away from work).
To simplify, it must be a confirmed positive case of COVID-19, it must have been the result of an event or exposure in the work environment, and it must have resulted in death, days lost from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical care beyond first aid, and/or loss of consciousness. It also must be recorded if it’s diagnosed by a physician or health care professional even if none of the other criteria applies.
Given the nature of the pandemic, it can be hard for employers to determine whether an employee’s case of COVID-19 is work-related or not. Under 1904.5(b)(3), OSHA suggests employers look at an employee’s duties and environment to determine events or exposure that may have caused or contributed to the illness. Employers are directed to make a good faith effort to make an accurate determination on whether an illness is work-related; decisions should not be arbitrary.
Traveling & Remote Workers
Illnesses and injuries that happen while an employee is traveling for work are only considered work related if the employee is engaged in work activities considered to be “in the interest” of the employer. For example, traveling to and from customer contacts, conducting job tasks, and entertaining or being entertained to transact, discuss, or promote business (work-related entertainment includes only entertainment activities being engaged in at the direction of the employer).
However, if the traveling employee has checked into a hotel or motel for one or more days or became injured or ill while taking a detour (like a side trip) for personal reasons, the injury or illness is not considered work related.
Employees Working from Home
With many employees being asked or mandated to work from home, it should be understood that OSHA requires illnesses and injuries that occur in the home to be recordable if the injury or illness occurs while the employee is performing work for pay or compensation in the home, and the injury or illness is directly related to the performance of work rather than to the general home environment or setting. In 1904.5(b)(7) OSHA provides several good examples of what would and wouldn’t be considered work related injuries and illnesses while working at home.
As the situation with COVID-19 remains fluid, employers should frequently visit OSHA’s webpage on COVID-19 standards to make sure they are receiving the most up to date guidance on how to report work related cases of COVID-19.