In OSHA’s original guidance from April 2020, the agency acknowledged the difficulty in determining whether a COVID-19 case was “work-related” due to possible employee infections from outside the workplace. Most employers did not have a reporting obligation unless the employer had “objective evidence” that the COVID-19 case was work-related.
However, under new guidance set forth below, OSHA confirms COVID-19 is a recordable illness, and all employers – including non-health care employers – are expected to investigate COVID-19 cases and make a determination of work-relatedness.
OSHA’s COVID Recordability Test
A COVID-19 case must be recorded if:
- The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19 as defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC defines a confirmed case as an individual who tests positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
- The case is work-related; and
- The case results in death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness.
If the employee meets these three requirements, the COVID-19 case should be recorded on the employer’s OSHA 300 log. A COVID-19 case should also be coded as a respiratory illness. In accordance with existing regulations (CLICK HERE TO READ), the only employers that are exempt from maintaining such records are those with 10 or fewer employees or certain low-risk industries.
The key issue for an employer in assessing a COVID-19 case is determining whether it is “work-related.” OSHA’s new guidance indicates it will consider the following factors in determining whether an employer has made a reasonable determination on this issue:
The reasonableness of the employer’s investigation into work-relatedness.Under this new standard, it would be reasonable for an employer to engage in the following steps upon learning of the employee’s COVID-19 illness:
- Ask the employee how he or she believes the virus was contracted;
- Discuss with the employee activities at work and outside of work that may have led to the illness; and
- Review the employee’s work environment for potential exposure.
OSHA also notes that “due weight” should be given to the opinion of a medical provider or a public health authority in making a determination. With that said, the employer is not expected to undertake extensive medical inquires.
The evidence available to the employer.
This will include the information reasonably available to the employer at the time it made the decision about work-relatedness. However, it can be changed later when the employer learns additional information that may impact the determination.
The evidence that a COVID-19 illness was contracted at work.
The new guidance outlines some evidence that weigh in favor or against work-relatedness:
- Evidence that may weigh in favor of work-relatedness includes: Several cases developing among workers who work closely together and there is not an alternative explanation; and
an employee testing positive shortly after lengthy, close exposure to a customer or coworker who has a confirmed case and there is not an alternative explanation.
- Evidence that may weigh against work-relatedness includes: A worker who tests positive is the only worker in his or her vicinity to contract the virus and his or her job duties do not involve frequent contact with the public; and a worker who contracts COVID-19 has close contact with a family member or close friend who is not a coworker who has the virus.
In summary, it is imperative that employers conduct a reasonable and objective evaluation for work-relatedness when assessing COVID-19 cases in the workplace.
Elizabeth Fellmeth is an attorney in Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Los Angeles and Orange County offices. Her practice focuses on business, commercial and employment litigation.