New Guidance Recommends Employers Engage with Employees and Unions to Mitigate COVID-19 in the Workplace

By: Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Taskforce

On June 10th, federal OSHA published significant updates to its principal workplace COVID-19 guidance – Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.  This was an update to the original version that issued on January 29, 2021 in response to Pres. Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order, and the first time it has been updated since the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.

At its core, OSHA’s new guidance was updated to align with CDC’s May 13, 2021 guidance regarding relaxing requirements for vaccinated individuals and advises that, unless otherwise required by another jurisdiction’s laws, rules, or regulations, most employers no longer need to take steps to protect their fully vaccinated workers who are not otherwise at-risk from COVID-19 exposure.

To the extent workers are not vaccinated or are otherwise at risk, however, OSHA states that employers must continue to implement controls to help protect them, include:

  • separating from the workplace all infected people, all people experiencing COVID symptoms, and any unvaccinated people who have had a close contact with someone with COVID-19
  • implementing physical distancing
  • maintaining ventilation systems, and
  • enforcing the proper use of face coverings or PPE when appropriate.

Importantly, OSHA recommends employers engage with workers and their representatives to determine how to implement multi-layered interventions to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by taking some combination of these actions:

  • Providing paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.
  • Instructing unvaccinated workers who experience a close contact exposure, and any worker (vaccinated or unvaccinated) who experience COVID-19 symptoms or who are confirmed to be infected to stay home from work.
  • Implementing physical distancing for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in all communal work areas.  At fixed workstations where unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers are not able to remain at least 6 feet away from other people, install transparent shields or other solid barriers (e.g., fire resistant plastic sheeting or flexible strip curtains) to separate these workers from other people.
  • Providing unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers with face coverings or surgical masks, unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE in accordance with relevant mandatory OSHA standards.
  • Training workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures in formats and languages they understand.
  • “Suggesting” that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings, especially in public-facing workplaces such as retail establishments, if there are unvaccinated or at-risk workers there who are likely to interact with them.
  • Maintaining existing ventilation systems.
  • Performing routine cleaning and disinfection.
  • Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths.
  • Setting up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.
  • Implementing protections against retaliation.

The recommendation that employers engage with workers and their representatives (such as labor unions) will likely spur requests to meet and negotiate over what the employer is doing to implement these steps, and the recommendation to have an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19 hazards could lead to a rise of internal investigations and workplace responses.

While OSHA does make clear that its updated guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations, OSHA does specifically reference its enforcement authority under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause.  Thus, as more employers increase their efforts to safety return their employees to the workplace this Summer and Fall, it would be prudent for employers to review the recommendations set forth in OSHA’s guidance and update their policies and procedures, including training of employees, accordingly.

Is Your Workplace Covered by Fed OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Nearly 16 months after the pandemic began, federal OSHA revealed its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (the ETS) that imposes a series of requirements on healthcare employers.  While OSHA’s issuance of an ETS comes as no surprise to many who have been tracking the agency since Pres. Biden’s inauguration, the fact that it applies only to the healthcare sector and not to all industries is not what we expected.  Looking back, the promulgation of an ETS applicable to all workplaces seemed a foregone conclusion when President Biden took office in January and issued an Executive Order that same day directing OSHA to update its COVID-19 guidance, adopt a COVID-19 National Emphasis Program, evaluate whether an ETS was necessary and, if so, issue the ETS on or before March 15, 2021.

On April 27, 2021, OSHA delivered to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) an ETS, which, by all accounts, was a broad rule applicable to all industries, but because this was an emergency rulemaking, the proposed regulatory text was not available to the public.  In the weeks that followed, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), within OMB, hosted a series of meetings to hear from stakeholders regarding a proposed rule they had not seen.  On behalf of the Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition, Conn Maciel Carey organized and led two OIRA meetings at which we and our coalition members provided input and recommendations to OSHA and OMB.  As the meetings continued, the success of the vaccine rollout became clearer, with a corresponding drop in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and then came the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) game-changing guidance on May 13, 2021 relaxing protocols for vaccinated individuals.  All of this caused many to question whether an OSHA ETS was still necessary.  With conditions on the ground improving rapidly, we continued to help stakeholder schedule and participate in OIRA meetings to argue that a general industry ETS was no longer needed.

On June 10, 2011, after more than 50 OIRA meetings, a final ETS applicable only to the healthcare industry was sent to the Office of the Federal Register for publication.  The standard appears at 29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502, and will appear in the Federal Register within a couple of weeks.

Explaining the purpose of the ETS for Healthcare, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh offered this statement: Continue reading

In Lieu of a COVID-19 ETS Applicable to All Industries, Fed OSHA Updated Its COVID-19 Guidance

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On June 10th, Fed OSHA revealed its much anticipated (or dreaded) COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standard, but rather than a rule applicable to all industries, OSHA issued a regulation narrowly tailored only to certain healthcare settings.

So what does that mean for all other employers?  For everyone else, federal OSHA simultaneously published significant updates (mostly improvements) to its principal workplace COVID-19 guidance – Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.  This was an update to the original version that issued on January 29, 2021 in response to Pres. Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order, and the first time it has been updated since the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.

OSHA announced that the updated guidance is intended to help employers protect non-vaccinated workers in non-healthcare settings (i.e., industries not covered by the new ETS), with a special emphasis on other industries noted for prolonged close-contacts among workers, such as meat processing, manufacturing, seafood, and grocery and high-volume retail workplaces.  The guidance also states that it applies to otherwise at-risk workers; i.e., those with conditions that may affect the workers’ ability to have a full immune response to vaccination.

OSHA categorizes the updates to the guidance into three buckets:

  1. focus protections on unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers;
  2. encourage COVID-19 vaccination; and
  3. link to guidance with the most up-to-date content.

At its core, though, OSHA’s new guidance was updated to Continue reading

EEOC Updates COVID-19 Vaccination Guidance

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Last week, Conn Maciel Carey posted a blog article about How to Navigate the Thorny Legal Landscape Around Employee Vaccination Status.  One of the observation in that article was that we were all on the edge of our seats waiting for the EEOC to issue promised guidance about employer incentives and mandates about the COVID-19 vaccination.  On Friday, the EEOC finally issued much-anticipated updated FAQs about the legal landscape of various employer vaccinations policies.

Here is a summary of the vaccine section of the guidance:

May employers ask employees about vaccination status under federal law?  See FAQs K9, K5, K15, K16, K18, K19

  • Yes – does not violate ADA or GINA.
  • However, employer should not ask “why” an employee is unvaccinated, as this could compel the employee to reveal disability information that is protected under the ADA and/or GINA.
  • Recommended practice: If employer requires documentation or other confirmation of vaccination, “notify all employees that the employer will consider requests for reasonable accommodation based on disability on an individualized basis.”

Is vaccination information “confidential” under the ADA?  See FAQ K4

  • Yes, this includes documentation (i.e., the white vaccination card)  or “other confirmation” of vaccination, which we presume means any self-attestation form or email from the employee, as well as any record, matrix, spreadsheet, or checklist created by the employer after viewing employees’ vaccination cards or receiving a verbal confirmations from employees.
  • The records or information must be kept confidential and stored separately from employee personnel files.

How may employers encourage employees and family members to get vaccinated?  See FAQ K3 Continue reading

CDC Drops Mask and Distancing Requirements for Fully Vaccinated Individuals — What About the Workplace?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

By now you have likely heard the big news that yesterday, May 13th, the CDC updated guidance related to masks and physical distancing for individuals who are fully vaccinated (i.e., two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine or after the second dose in a two-dose series).  Specifically, in its updated guidance — “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People” — the CDC now says fully vaccinated individuals may resume essentially all indoor and outdoor pre-pandemic activities in almost all circumstances.  As of now, there is no outside limit to one’s status as fully vaccinated.

In a public video released just before the CDC posted its updated written guidance, CDC Director Dr. Walensky shared that “based on data about vaccine effectiveness and the low risk of transmission to others, and universal access to vaccines today, the CDC is updating our guidance for fully vaccinated individuals.  Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities—large or small—without wearing a mask or physical distancing.”  Even in the case of “breakthrough” infections, Dr. Walensky acknowledged that there is likely low risk of transmission to others.  Dr. Walensky cautioned that “over the past year, we saw how unpredictable this virus can be, so we may have to change these recommendations if things get worse.”

What Does This Mean For Workplaces?

The question everyone is asking is whether this updated guidance applies to employees and workplaces.  The best answer we can give now is that the guidance does technically apply to workplaces, but there is a significant exception relative to workplaces built into the new guidance that swallows most of the relief it purports to provide, at least for now in many jurisdictions. Here’s our analysis about why this new guidance does apply to workplaces, but how geographically limited the relief is for the time being. Continue reading

Cal/OSHA Introduces Proposed Amendments to its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Friday, May 7th, Cal/OSHA finalized and published a proposed amended version of its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (the “ETS”), which the Cal/OSH Standards Board will consider for readoption at the Board’s upcoming May 20, 2021 meeting.  The revised sections of the ETS include a series of changes sought by the regulated community, and quite a few that our

Cal/OSHA’s Proposed Amended COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard Sent to the Standards Board

California Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition specifically advocated for, but the rule is still a bear.

It bears emphasizing that the proposed updated ETS is coming more than five months after the Board unanimously adopted the ETS, and during that span, Cal/OSHA has been busy considering potential changes, due in large part to the lack of opportunity by the regulated community to consider and comment in the rush to issue the emergency regulation back in November.  Indeed, when the ETS was first adopted, the regulated community struggled to understand and implement the regulation.  And while Cal/OSHA issued numerous FAQs in January, February and March, many questions remained unanswered.

In February, the Division convened an Advisory Committee about the ETS consisting of members from business and industry, labor and community groups, public agencies, and the health sciences to provide input on possible changes to the ETS.  As you know, Conn Maciel Carey, on behalf of the California Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition (the “Coalition”), participated in the three-day (February 11, 12 and 16) Advisory Committee meetings.  On March 2, the Coalition submitted written comments to the Chief of the Division addressing a variety of concerns and suggesting, among other recommendations, that the Division:

  • Clarify the scope of the ETS;
  • Clarify various requirements under the ETS to be consistent with guidance the Division has provided in its FAQs;
  • Create more flexibility in the standard to account for the vastly different operations covered by the ETS;
  • Address the evolving science and public health guidance on COVID-19 and the vaccines; and
  • Clarify and align notice requirements under the ETS with other California requirements.

The good news is, the agency Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Officially Submitted to OMB for Final Approval

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We have officially entered the phase of Federal OSHA’s emergency rulemaking when things are going to start to move very quickly.  After hitting the “refresh” button more times over the last month than we would like to admit, today we finally saw what we have been expecting since mid-March – Federal OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) has been submitted to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) for approval:

The entry for the ETS on OMB’s website confirms that OMB:

  • Has received a proposed COVID-19 rule from OSHA;
  • The rule is in the “Final Rule” stage;
  • The rule is characterized as “Economically Significant”; and
  • Regulatory text is not available to be reviewed by the public.

The Department of Labor issued this press statement confirming that the rule was sent to OMB:

“Today, OSHA sent draft standards to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review.  OSHA has been working diligently on its proposal and has taken the appropriate time to work with its science-agency partners, economic agencies, and others in the U.S. government to get this proposed emergency standard right.”

Of particular note in this press statement is DOL’s use of Continue reading

OSHA Takes A Big Step Towards Issuing a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we continue our marathon COVID-19 ETS watch, some news today made the future of OSHA’s emergency rulemaking more clear.  OSHA has officially delivered a proposed COVID-19 emergency temporary standard to the White House’s Office of Management Budget today, Monday, April 26th.  Although the OMB website is still not showing a record of the rule, the Department of Labor issued this statement:

“Today, OSHA sent draft standards to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review.  OSHA has been working diligently on its proposal and has taken the appropriate time to work with its science-agency partners, economic agencies, and others in the U.S. government to get this proposed emergency standard right.”

We had circled this Wednesday, April 28th, on our calendar as the likely day OSHA would officially announce it was going to issue an ETS because that is Workers Memorial Day, and that seemed to be a good symbolic occasion to announce a rule designed to address a pandemic that has claimed so many lives.  Here’s a link to the Dept. of Labor’s Virtual Workers Memorial Day event, and here’s how the event is billed: Continue reading

A Private Right of Action to Enforce Federal OSHA Violations Would Benefit Attorneys, Not Employees

By Eric J. Conn and Mark M. Trapp

When the Trump Administration’s OSHA declined repeatedly to issue a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard and otherwise favored issuing guidance over citations, the agency faced a series of lawsuits and legal challenges from worker advocacy groups and national unions.  OSHA prevailed in those actions, retaining its primacy and exclusive authority to make workplace safety enforcement decisions.  But in the wake of those failed legal challenges, pro-labor advocates and Democratic politicians and policymakers have begun a serious push to establish a private right of action for employees and their representatives under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

For example, in July of 2020, the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR), a left-leaning think tank focused on advancing policies to address health and well-being of workers and others, issued a report calling on Congress to legislate a private right of action for employees about workers safety conditions. The purpose of CPR’s policy proposal is explained this way:

OSHA has failed not only to protect workers from existing hazards – ranging from unsecured trenches to infectious diseases like COVID-19 – but has also taken minimal action to tackle emerging risks, such as those associated with climate change, the reshoring of manufacturing jobs, increased automation, and the expansion of artificial intelligence in the workplace. . . .  [I]t is time to address the law’s and agency’s shortcomings and chart a course of action to revolutionize worker health and safety for the next 50 years.

Fixing the current system requires an updated and vastly improved labor law that empowers workers to speak up about health and safety hazards, rather than risk their lives out of fear of losing employment and pay. It also requires that workers be empowered to fight back when government agencies fail to enforce safety and health requirements. Our vision is to guarantee all workers a private right of action to enforce violations of the OSH Act, coupled with incentives for speaking up and strong whistleblower protections to ensure workers can and will utilize their new authority.

Continue reading

Pres. Biden Nominates an Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA – Doug Parker, the Current Head of Cal/OSHA

By Eric Conn, Fred Walter, and Beeta Lashkari

Last Friday, April 9th, the White House announced Pres. Biden’s nomination of Doug Parker for Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA – the top job at federal OSHA.  Mr. Parker is currently the Chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), serving as the Head of Cal/OSHA since the summer of 2019.  Mr. Parker was considered a leading candidate for this nomination to head OSHA since he was picked for a spot on the Biden-Harris Labor Transition Team to focus on worker safety and health issues.

In his role as Division Chief at Cal/OSHA, Mr. Parker has been involved in numerous major developments, including:

  • Developing the enforcement plan for Cal/OSHA’s new-ish regulation for Workplace Violence Prevention in Healthcare;
  • Rolling out Cal/OSHA’s emergency Wildfire Smoke Rule and overseeing the development of the Permanent Wildfire Smoke Rule;
  • Overseeing an extension of the statute of limitations for injury and illness recordkeeping violations – making them “continuing violations” for the five-year record-retention period;
  • Advancing a rulemaking for an Indoor Heat Illness Prevention standard; and
  • Implementing a Cal/OSHA operational change to significantly expand the agency’s definition of “Repeat” violations

Even with all that, Mr. Parker’s tenure at Cal/OSHA will likely be best remembered for his role in developing and rolling-out Continue reading

Another Status Update about Federal OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Rulemaking

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

It has been nearly a full month since the deadline set by President Biden’s Day-1 OSHA Executive Order for Federal OSHA to determine the necessity of and to issue a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), and we are all still waiting for the big news.  OSHA has not issued a final ETS.  The Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) website has not been updated to reflect that it has received a proposed ETS from OSHA.  OSHA has not even explicitly announced that it will issue a COVID-19 ETS.

According to reports last week from Bloomberg Law, brand new Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh requested a hold on the release of an OSHA ETS, but according to a DOL spokesperson, that “hold” was so that OSHA could make “a rapid update based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis and the latest information regarding the state of vaccinations and the variants.”  The sense from that reporting was that OSHA would be quickly updating certain provisions in a near-final draft of the ETS to align with the latest CDC guidance.  No suggestion that an ETS would not be issued.

However, later in the week, Politico reports that Secretary Walsh gave a public interview in which he said this:

That was the first time since President Biden’s Executive Order that we heard anyone at OSHA or the Department of Labor imply that a COVID-19 ETS may not happen, and it conflicts directly with Continue reading

Five Important Updates About Federal OSHA and Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Recordkeeping

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

It has been a little while since we last shared an update about COVID-19 recordkeeping issues. Since Fed OSHA issued its COVID-19 recordkeeping guidance in May 2020 and Cal/OSHA issued its controversial COVID-19 Recordkeeping FAQs with unique, more onerous requirements in June, the agencies have been mostly quiet about COVID-19 recordkeeping. But that does not mean there have not been significant developments in that area or that there are no important developments to monitor closely.

Here are five notable OSHA and Cal/OSHA COVID-19 recordkeeping updates that we wanted to share with you:

1.  Congressional Intervention About Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Recordkeeping FAQs

As we explained last year, Cal/OSHA’s May 27th COVID-19 Recordkeeping FAQs departed from Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 recordkeeping requirements in two key ways: (i) rejecting Fed OSHA’s recordability precondition of a positive COVID test; and (ii) flipping the burden of establishing work-relatedness on its head, setting instead a presumption of Cal-OSHA RK FAQSwork-relatedness if any workplace exposure can be identified, even if the cause of the illness is just as likely to be attributable to a non-work exposure.

Aside from being bad policy that will result in many non-work related illnesses being recorded on California employers’ 300 Logs, Cal/OSHA is not legally permitted to deviate from Fed OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements.

The latest big development on that front was a helpful letter from the U.S. Department of Labor responding to an inquiry about this issue from a group of California Congressmen, in which DOL confirms that Cal/OSHA should be following the same recordkeeping requirements as Fed OSHA. Despite the clear statements in Cal/OSHA’s FAQs that a “confirmed case” is not required for recordkeeping and that work-relatedness should be presumed, the federal Department of Labor explained in its letter to the Congressmen: Continue reading

OSHA Announces COVID-19 National Emphasis Program and Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

While OSHA is expected today, March 15th, to confirm that it will issue a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), and to get that ETS released within a month, there were also a couple of important developments last week regarding OSHA’s approach to COVID-19 enforcement.

On Friday afternoon, March 12th, OSHA launched a COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (“COVID-19 NEP”) to:

“focus its inspection and enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the virus,” as well as prioritizing employers that “retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law.”

This move by OSHA was not unexpected.  As we previously shared, Pres. Biden’s Day-1 OSHA Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety (the same EO that called for the COVID-19 ETS), separately called for OSHA to issue a COVID-19 NEP.

Goals of the COVID-19 NEP

In today’s announcement about the COVID-19 NEP, OSHA explained that “the goal of this NEP is to significantly reduce or eliminate worker exposures to SARS-CoV-2 by targeting industries and worksites where employees may have a high frequency of close contact exposures and therefore, controlling the health hazards associated with such exposures.”  The NEP includes “an added focus to ensure that workers are protected from retaliation” and are accomplishing this by preventing retaliation where possible, distributing anti-retaliation information during inspections and outreach opportunities, as well as promptly referring allegations of retaliation to the Whistleblower Protection Program.

Industries and Workplaces Covered by the NEP

OSHA also explained that inspections under the COVID-19 NEP will include some follow-up inspections of worksites previously inspected by OSHA in 2020, but principally will focus on establishments in industries identified on targeting lists OSHA will develop now.  The NEP covers a broader set of workplaces than seems consistent with the goals of the NEP.  The directive creates three different lists of covered workplaces – high risk healthcare establishments and high risk non-healthcare establishments (which is how the NEP has been described), and also a third list of “Supplemental Industries for non-Healthcare in Essential Critical Infrastructure” that does not have the same high exposure risk characteristics of the first two lists.  The industries covered by these three lists are included at the bottom of this email.  Area Offices may also “add establishments to the generated master lists based on information from appropriate sources (e.g., local knowledge of establishments, commercial directories, referrals from the local health department, or from other federal agencies with joint jurisdictions, such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), media referrals or previous OSHA inspection history).” Continue reading

Status Update About OSHA’s Emergency COVID-19 Rulemaking

By Eric J. Conn

We are sure many of you have been on the edge of your seat waiting for news about OSHA’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standard, which was expected to be issued by next Monday, March 15th  per Pres. Biden’s Day-1 OSHA Executive Order (EO).  So that you might be able to enjoy your weekend, we wanted to share with you the latest we are hearing about the status of the emergency rulemaking.

Status of Rulemaking

As we expected, the process OSHA is following (an emergency rulemaking with some time pressure set by Pres. Biden) does not include an opportunity for a formal pre-rule public notice-and-comment period.  Nevertheless, the rule still needs to go to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval before it is issued and can go into effect.  That likely means that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within OMB will provide for stakeholder input in some form pursuant to Executive Order 12866.  As of now, OMB’s website still does not reflect a docket entry for OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS, and we have not otherwise heard or seen anything that would indicate the proposed rule has been delivered to OMB.  To monitor that, here is a link to OMB’s page about regulations under EO 12866 review — scroll down to the Department of Labor section of rules.

We also have started to hear through the rumor-mill that OSHA understand the Executive Order to require Continue reading

Fed OSHA Issues Updated COVID-19 Guidance, As Mandated by Pres. Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we shared earlier this month, President Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order On Protecting Workers from COVID-19, directed federal OSHA to take 3 key actions:

  1. issue new COVID-19 guidance to protect workers within 2 weeks;
  2. consider whether to issue a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (and to do so by March 15th); and
  3. enhance health and safety enforcement, including with a National Emphasis Program).

On Friday, January 29, 2021, OSHA delivered on the first of those mandates from the Executive Order, issuing a detailed set of new COVID-19 guidance for employers and workers entitled “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.”

OSHA explained in its press release announcing the new guidance:

“The U.S. Department of Labor announced today that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued stronger worker safety guidance to help employers and workers implement a coronavirus prevention program and better identify risks which could lead to exposure and contraction. Last week, President Biden directed OSHA to release clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure.”

We first heard about the new guidance during a Small Business Administration Labor and Safety Round Table on Friday morning, when the new Acting Head of OSHA, Jim Frederick, and new Senior Advisor, Ann Rosenthal, gave an update about the new Administration’s priorities and plans for OSHA.  Mr. Frederick said the updated guidance is just “OSHA’s first step to re-establishing that OSHA is advocating for workers.”

As it comes still only in the form of guidance, the document technically does not create new legal obligations, but OSHA under the Biden Administration has already made clear that COVID-19 enforcement will be a priority, and unless (or really, until) it issues an emergency temporary standard, this guidance will almost certainly be relevant to OSHA’s enforcement efforts.  For example, like OSHA does in so many areas without existing standards, it is likely to point to this guidance to establish recognition of a serious hazard and the existence of feasible means of abatement for general duty clause citations.  Likewise, it could point to this guidance to challenge employer’s PPE determinations. Continue reading

Virginia OSHA Modifies and Makes Permanent Its COVID-19 Regulation — Effective Jan. 27, 2021

By Dan C. Deacon and Eric J. Conn

On July 15, 2020, Virginia OSHA became the first State OSH agency in the nation to promulgate an Emergency Temporary Standard regulating COVID-19 in workplaces.  Last week, in a 9-4 vote, the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board went a step further and finalized a “Permanent Standard for Infectious Disease Prevention of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus That Causes COVID-19,” making Virginia the first state in the country to issue a permanent rule regulating COVID-19 in the workplace.  The regulation has now been approved by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (January 26, 2021) without change, and was published in a paper of public record (the Richmond Times-Dispatch) on January 27, 2021, so VOSH’s permanent infectious disease rule is officially in effect.

As we previously detailed, in its emergency rule form, the COVID-19 regulation required Virginia employers to:

  1. Develop and implement written COVID-19 infection control plans that include:
    • mandating social distancing measures
    • requiring face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions and wherever social distancing cannot be assured
    • providing frequent access to hand washing or hand sanitizing
    • regularly cleaning high-contact surfaces.
    • adopting robust sanitation procedures
    • ensuring appropriate air handling systems
    • implementing policies and procedures for isolating and removing known COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 employees from the workplace, and for when it is safe for them to return to work (using either a symptom-based or test-based strategy depending on local healthcare and testing circumstances)
    • requiring all employees to be notified within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for COVID-19
    • requiring notification to VOSH within 24 hours of the discovery of three or more employees testing positive within a 14-day period.
  1. Provide COVID-19 related training
  2. Provide employment protection for employees who wear their own PPE or who raise a reasonable concern about infection control.

The ETS also provided some flexibility based on evolving CDC guidance – stating that employers would avoid a citation where the employer complied with CDC guidelines to mitigate COVID-19, so long as the CDC recommended practice provides equal or greater protection than the requirement in the ETS.  The emergency standard was set to expire January 26, 2021, which is why VOSH moved so quickly to issue this permanent regulation.

The final Permanent Infectious Disease Rule Continue reading

REMINDER: Feb. 1st Deadline to Prepare, Certify, & Post OSHA 300A Annual Summaries of Work-Related Injuries: 5 Common Mistakes Employers Make

By Lindsay A. DiSalvo, Dan C. Deacon, and Eric J. Conn

This is your yearly reminder about the important February 1st deadline to prepare, certify and post your OSHA 300A Annual Summary of workplace injuries and illnesses.  The requirement applies toall U.S. employers, except those with ten or fewer employees or those whose NAICS codes are in the set of very low-hazard industries exempt from OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping requirements, such as dental offices, advertising services, and car dealers (see the exempted industries at Appendix A to Subpart B of Part 1904).

The Form 300A is a summation of the workplace injuries and illnesses recorded on the OSHA 300 Log during the previous calendar year, as well as the total hours worked that year by all employees covered by the particular OSHA 300 Log.

By February 1st every year, covered employers must:

  • Review their OSHA 300 Log(s);
  • Verify the entries on the 300 Logs are complete and accurate;
  • Correct any deficiencies identified on the 300 Logs;
  • Use the injury data from the 300 Log to calculate an annual summary of injuries and illnesses, and input those calculations into the 300A Annual Summary Form; and
  • Have a “Company Executive” certify the accuracy of the 300 Log and the 300A Summary Form.

Five Common 300A Mistakes that Employers Make

We frequently see employers make the following five mistakes related to this annual duty to prepare, post and certify the injury and illness recordkeeping summary: Continue reading

President Biden’s Day 1 Executive Order regarding OSHA’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We did not have to wait long for the big update we have been holding our breath about – what the Biden Administration’s plans will be for a federal COVID-19 emergency standard.  As we expected, in just his first full day in Office (January 21, 2021), President Biden has already issued an Executive Order focused on OSHA’s approach to managing the COVID-19 crisis in the workplace, but the answer about a federal COVID-19 ETS is not as clear as we expected, or at least, the definitive answer will come a little later.

In the Order entitled “Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety,” President Biden has directed federal OSHA to revisit its overall strategy for regulating and enforcing issues associated with workplace spread of COVID-19 to execute his Administration’s policy on worker safety:

“Ensuring the health and safety of workers is a national priority and a moral imperative. Healthcare workers and other essential workers, many of whom are people of color and immigrants, have put their lives on the line during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. It is the policy of my Administration to protect the health and safety of workers from COVID-19.”

Specifically, President Biden has directed the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA to take four key actions relative to COVID-19 in the workplace: Continue reading

Cal/OSHA Issues a Second Batch of FAQs Clarifying Its New COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

By Eric J. Conn, Andrew J. Sommer, and Beeta B. Lashkari

On November 30, 2020, Cal/OSHA issued its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard and it became effective immediately — all provisions.  Cal/OSHA has signaled that there will be some early enforcement discretion, except for actions thought already to be required by the Injury Illness Prevention Plan regulation and other pre-existing regulations.  But getting into compliance with this burdensome new rule should be a high priority.

And how to get into compliance, or at least what Cal/OSHA is expecting from California employers, has gotten a little clearer. As promised by Division Chief Doug Parker and Deputy Chief of Standards Eric Berg, we have a new set of Cal/OSHA FAQs about the agency’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard.

The FAQs were announced by Cal/OSHA in a communication confirming that the agency would continue to issue guidance as needed, and continue to implement the formal Advisory Committee Process through which improvements and fixes to the rule may be adopted.  Here’s an excerpt from the communication:

“There are now 69 FAQs with seven additional subheadings to help clarify and answer questions that we have received about the COVID-19 Prevention ETS …. We will continue to update the FAQs as needed in the future….”

And here is a link to full set of FAQs Cal/OSHA has issued about the rule.

Based on our review, we think these FAQs provide some important clarifications about the ETS, and in some instances, essentially rewrite the regulatory language (mostly in helpful ways).  But it is also our view that the FAQs do not appear to be as flexible as the agency had signaled in some informal guidance (e.g., regarding how to determine the scope of an outbreak), and it does not address several important questions (e.g., what are employers options and obligations for employees who decline testing required by the rule).  Here are some of the new FAQs Continue reading

Conn Maciel Carey is pleased to announce the launch of the Cal/OSHA Defense Report Blog

The Cal/OSHA attorneys in Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice Group are excited to announce the launch of The Cal/OSHA Defense Report bog!

The Cal/OSHA Defense Report is a blog designed to bring California employers recent developments in workplace safety and health law, but not just to note that something has happened, but to talk about why California employers should care, and how it will affect their business.

We started the Cal/OSHA Defense Report blog because we frequent several useful blogs dedicated to practical day-to-day workplace safety & health issues, but none that dive deep into workplace safety & health legal and regulatory issues, especially not focused on the unique regulatory environment in California. This new blog is intended to fill that void.

The Cal/OSHA Defense Report will be the place to go to learn about significant new developments from California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and the Cal/OSH Standards Board.  The blog will cover such topics as Continue reading

CDC Updates Return-to-Work Guidance Again – Reduces Quarantine Time

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we noted in a Client Alert last month, the CDC issued its new guidance for “Close Contacts” in a way that would make quarantine circumstances much more likely; i.e., CDC’s new definition of close contact makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, rather than just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.

Creating even more challenges for maintaining adequate staffing, the CDC issued additional guidance in November limiting the flexibility to keep asymptomatic critical infrastructure workers at work after a close contact exposure:

Employers may consider allowing exposed and asymptomatic critical infrastructure workers to continue to work in select instances when it is necessary to preserve the function of critical infrastructure workplaces. This option should be used as a last resort and only in limited circumstances, such as when cessation of operation of a facility may cause serious harm or danger to public health or safety.

Those two changes combined to make staffing a real challenge as we move firmly into the second big wave of COVID-19 cases.

Perhaps because of those challenges, today, the CDC issued new guidance that would reduce the duration of many quarantines from 14 days to 10 days and, in some cases to 7 days.  Specifically, CDC identified the following options as acceptable alternatives to a 14-day quarantine:

  • Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring.
  • If testing is available, then quarantine can end after Day 7 if a respiratory specimen tests negative and no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.  The specimen may be collected and tested within 48 hours before the time of planned quarantine discontinuation (e.g., in anticipation of testing delays), but quarantine cannot be discontinued earlier than after Day 7; i.e., testing should be initiated no earlier than Day 5 after the close contact exposure occurs. Continue reading

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard Approved by OAL and Immediately Effective

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Earlier today, we shared an update about Cal/OSHA’s fast-moving rulemaking for an emergency COVID-19 prevention rule, along with a detailed summary of how we got here, as well as an outline of what the California rule will require.

We wanted to give you an update as soon as we heard, and we just heard… OAL has officially approved Cal/OSHA’s emergency COVID-19 prevention regulation.  OAL’s website was just updated with this entry:

And here is the Cal/OSHA website reflecting the current status of the rule and the final approved regulation language: “Text Approved by OAL.

As Cal/OSHA’s website notes, the rule was filed with the Secretary of State today, and it is immediately effective – all provisions.  However, during the Board’s final public hearing about the rule, the Division signaled there would be some reasonable delay in enforcement.  Specifically, Division Chief Doug Parker told the Standards Board:

“Some employers are going to need more time. We intend to fully take that into account in determining how they’re implementing the rule….  The Division will consider ‘good-faith’ efforts on the part of employers and will offer compliance assistance.”

Be cautious about that, however, as the agency has not issued anything formal conveying this enforcement discretion, and to the extent the new rule merely formalizes some requirement Cal/OSHA already believed it had authority to enforce under the IIPP rule, do not expect any leniency.  Be sure to document the efforts you are taking to come into compliance, especially where coming into full compliance will take a little time.

Here is what will happen next:

  • Guidance / FAQs:  Cal/OSHA has indicated that it will soon be issuing FAQs and other guidance as early as this week that will hopefully “clarify” some of the provisions that we have flagged as ambiguous or problematic in our comments and other discussions with the Division.  For example, we anticipate some guidance confirming that employers may Continue reading

California COVID-19 Emergency Rule Adopted by Standards Board

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Not to be outdone by Virginia OSHA, Oregon OSHA, or Michigan OSHA, Cal/OSHA is on the precipice of issuing an onerous COVID-19 specific regulation that is expected to be issued, with all provisions immediately effective, next week.  Below is detailed summary of how we got here, as well as an outline of what the California rule will require.

On November 19, 2020, the California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (“Board”) voted unanimously to adopt an Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Rule following a contentious public hearing with over 500 participants in attendance (albeit virtually).  The Emergency Rule has been presented to California’s Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”) for approval and publication. OAL has ten days to approve the Rule; if approved, the Rule will become immediately effective, likely next Monday, November 30th.  The Rule brings with it a combination of requirements overlapping with and duplicative of already-existing state and county requirements applicable to employers, as well as a number of new and, in some cases, very burdensome, compliance obligations.

The Board’s emergency rulemaking was triggered last May with the submission of a Petition for an emergency rulemaking filed by worker advocacy group WorkSafe and National Lawyers’ Guild, Labor & Employment Committee.  The Petition requested the Board amend Title 8 standards to create two new regulations – the first, a temporary emergency standard that would provide specific protections to California employees who may experience exposure to COVID-19, but who are not already covered by Cal/OSHA’s existing Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard (section 5199, which applies generally to healthcare employers); and the second, a regular rulemaking for a permanent infectious diseases standard, including novel pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2.  Note that emergency rulemakings are rare and must meet a very high threshold designed to allow this abbreviated process; only when a true emergency necessitates this process.  Here is a very simplified flowchart of the emergency standards rulemaking process.

Interestingly, the Standard Board’s staff found that a new COVID-19 rule was unnecessary because much of the proposed requirements recommended by WorkSafe’s Petition are already addressed under Cal/OSHA’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard (“IIPP”), and therefore, recommended that the Petition be denied.  DOSH staff, however, recommended that the Petition be approved, finding that an emergency regulation is warranted by the COVID-19 public health crisis and that the agency’s enforcement efforts would benefit from a specific regulatory mandate related to COVID-19.

On September 17th, the Standards Board accepted DOSH’s recommendation, finding that Continue reading

New Jersey Joins States with Mandatory Workplace COVID-19 Protective Measures

By the Conn Maciel Carey COVID-19 Task Force

Following in the wake of Virginia OSHA and Michigan OSHA issuing enforceable COVID-19 emergency temporary standards, and as Oregon OSHA and Cal/OSHA ready their own COVID-19 emergency standards this month, New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, issued Executive Order No. 192 (“EO 192”) on October 28, 2020, imposing a series of requirements on Garden State employers.

Whereas Virginia, Michigan, California, and Oregon are all State OSH Plan States, meaning they have state agencies that enforce workplace safety and health standards, New Jersey employers fall within the jurisdiction of federal OSHA, and as a result, enforcement of EO 192 will fall to New Jersey state agencies that do not normally focus on occupational safety and health issues.  In a press release announcing EO 192, Governor Murphy explained why he issued the Order despite federal OSHA’s primary jurisdiction over workplace safety in New Jersey.  Governor Murphy explained:

“A more significant portion of the State’s workforce has returned to in-person work, and as [New Jersey’s] economy continues to gradually reopen, it is necessary to ensure broad application of relevant health and safety standards to protect workers across all industries.”

Governor Murphy also pointed to the absence of a federal COVID-19 standard as another reason for the need for the EO in New Jersey:

“the federal government has failed to provide all workers the proper standards and protections that they deserve. Today’s executive order closes that gap to help ensure the health and safety of our workforce during this unprecedented time….  Today’s executive order lays out the enforceable standards we need, ensuring the safety of our workers, employers and customers. I will continue to fight for a federal OSHA emergency temporary standard, but where the Trump Administration and Mitch McConnell have dropped the ball, our state has stepped up.”

In order to comply with EO 192, New Jersey employers must:

  • Continue to focus on ensuring 6 feet of distance between workers whenever feasible. Where the nature of an employee’s work or the work area does not allow for 6 feet of distance to be maintained at all times, employers must ensure that each such employee wears a mask and install physical barriers between workstations wherever possible.
  • Require employees, customers, visitors, and other individuals entering the worksite to wear cloth or disposable face masks while on the premises. Masks must be provided to employees at no cost.   Employees may remove their masks when at their workstations if they are at least 6 feet from anyone else, or when alone in a walled office.  Notably, EO 192 provides that employers may deny entry to customers who refuse to wear a mask but does not mandate denial of service as states such as Michigan and Oregon have required.
  • Facilitate and ensure Continue reading

OSHA Publishes Employer Injury and Illness Data Collected Under the E-Recordkeeping Rule

By Eric J. Conn, Dan C. Deacon, and Beeta B. Lashkari

As the world continues to focus its attention on all things COVID-19 related – especially as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention learns more and more about the virus and updates its guidelines — earlier this month, OSHA quietly published a treasure trove of employer injury and illness data as part of its Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Rule (aka the “E-Recordkeeping Rule”).  The move comes after numerous attempts by OSHA under the Trump Administration to delay and narrow the requirements set forth in the original E-Recordkeeping Rule promulgated by OSHA in May 2016 during the final year of the Obama Administration, and also attempts by Trump’s OSHA to withhold from disclosure, even pursuant to FOIA requests, the injury and illness data collected pursuant to the Rule since 2016.

History of E-Recordkeeping Rule

The current version of the E-Recordkeeping Rule has undergone some changes and revisions, and indeed, as we previously posted here on the OSHA Defense Report, the Rule has had a long and tortured history.  Before promulgation of the E-Recordkeeping Rule, unless OSHA opened an enforcement inspection at an employer’s workplace or the Bureau of Labor Statistics requested an employer’s participation in its annual injury data survey, employer injury and illness recordkeeping data was maintained internally by employers.  In a major policy shift, on May 11, 2016, President Obama’s OSHA enacted the E-Recordkeeping Rule, requiring hundreds of thousands of workplaces to submit injury and illness data through OSHA’s Injury Tracking Application (“ITA”).  At that time, the Rule also included a provision in which employer injury and illness data would be made available to the public on a searchable online database without scrubbing employer names or location details.

More specifically, the 2016 E-Recordkeeping Rule required:

  1. All establishments with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the recordkeeping regulation to submit to OSHA annually their injury and illness data and information from their OSHA 300 Logs, 301 Incident Reports, and 300A Annual Summaries;
  2. Establishments with 20-249 employees in select “high hazard industries” to annually submit information from their 300A Annual Summaries only;
  3. All submissions to be done electronically, via a purportedly secure OSHA website portal; and
  4. Employer’s injury data to be publicized in a “user-friendly” database for all the world to see.

There were numerous legal challenges to the Rule, some of which are still being litigated.  Continue reading