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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.
Every injury or illness that is recorded on a 300 log must meet several criteria:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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