Coalition to Work on OSHA’s 2nd COVID-19 Emergency Rulemaking to Set a “Soft” Vaccine Mandate

We hate that we have to do this again, but alas, as we reported late last week, on Thursday, September 9th, President Biden announced that he is directing OSHA to issue a new Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that would require many employers to provide paid time for employees to get and recover from getting vaccinated and to implement “soft” vaccine mandates; i.e., require employees either to be fully vaccinated or get weekly COVID-19 testing, as well as issuing new Executive Orders requiring federal contractors to implement “hard” vaccine mandates.

While we anticipated OSHA would reconsider the need for a broader COVID-19 ETS applicable beyond just the healthcare sector in light of the impact of the Delta variant, President Biden’s decision to use a new ETS focused on vaccinations and testing as a central element of his newly unveiled Path Out of the Pandemic – COVID-19 Action Plan raises a host of challenges for employers across the country.  We understand from our contacts at OSHA that the agency will move much more quickly to prepare and send this ETS to the White House, so it is imperative that the employer community come together now to identify shared concerns and considerations and begin advocating to OSHA and OMB so that this new ETS is one with which industry can reasonably manage.

To that end, Conn Maciel Carey LLP is organizing a fee-based company-anonymous coalition of employers and trade groups to advocate for the most reasonable fed OSHA COVID-19 emergency rule focused on vaccination and testing possible. Continue reading

[WEBINAR] 2021 Mid-Year Review of Important Developments at OSHA

On Thursday, July 22, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. ET, join the Partners from Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice for a webinar event – “2021 Mid-Year Review of Key OSHA Developments

Having shared a series of predictions during our January webinar regarding how OSHA would tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and reshape its priorities under new leadership during the first year of the Biden Administration, we will now take stock of what has happened at DOL and OSHA during the first months of the Biden Administration, discuss surprise developments, and look ahead at the remainder of 2021 and beyond. We will take a close look at senior leadership now in place or on the way, and analyze what those appointments likely mean for employers. We will also review OSHA’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including the new healthcare-focused emergency temporary standard and updated guidance for everyone else. We will also examine Pres. Biden’s efforts to make good on his promises to increase OSHA’s budget, grow the number of inspectors and generally ramp up enforcement. We will also review key developments in OSHA’s rulemaking agenda.

Participants in this webinar will learn the following:

Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Cleaning and Disinfecting

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Today’s topic is cleaning and disinfecting…when cleaning/disinfecting is required and what needs to be cleaned/disinfected.

29 C.F.R. Section 502(j) of the ETS establishes the cleaning and disinfecting requirements that must be implemented at covered facilities. This summary describes these requirements.

In patient care areas, resident rooms, and for medical devices and equipment, the employer must follow standard practices for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and equipment in accordance with CDC’s “COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations” and CDC’s “Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control,” both of which the ETS incorporates by reference.  Under the ETS and CDC Guidance, cleaning refers to removal of dirt and germs using soap and water or other cleaning agents while disinfecting means using an EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectant included on EPA’s “List N” in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions.

Most healthcare settings have been following this CDC Guidance throughout the pandemic, so OSHA’s incorporation of these requirements into the ETS likely requires nothing new to be done when cleaning and disinfecting.  Some of the more fundamental requirements Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Physical Distancing

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Today’s topic is physical distancing…when distancing is required and ways to maintain distance.

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(h) establishes the requirements employers covered by the ETS must follow regarding physical distancing.  Employers must ensure that each employee is separated from all other people by at least 6 feet when indoors, unless the employer can demonstrate that it is not feasible to remain distant to accomplish a specific activity (e.g., hands-on medical care).  This summary describes the physical distancing requirements of the ETS.

To determine when and where physical distancing is necessary in the workplace, employers must rely on the results of their hazard assessments.  Places and times where people may congregate or come in contact with one another must be identified and addressed, regardless of whether employees are performing an assigned work task or not.  For instance, it is typical that employees congregate during meetings or training sessions, as well as in and around entrances, bathrooms, hallways, aisles, walkways, elevators, breakrooms or eating areas, and waiting areas.  All of these areas must be identified and addressed as part of the hazard assessment.

After identifying potential areas where employees may congregate and therefore where concern regarding workplace exposure is heightened, employers must develop and implement policies and procedures to comply with the 6 feet physical distancing requirements.

The ETS establishes several exceptions to the physical distancing requirements of the standard. Physical distancing is not required for employees who are fully vaccinated when those employees are in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that any person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 will be present.  (Face masking and physical barriers also are not required in this situation.)

The physical distancing requirement also does not apply Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Physical Barriers

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Today’s topic is physical barriers…what has to be installed and where they have to be installed.

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(i) of the ETS establishes a requirement for physical barriers to be installed under certain circumstances. Solid barriers must be installed at each fixed work location outside of direct patient care areas where an employee is not separated from all other people by at least 6 feet of distance, except where the employer can demonstrate it is not feasible to do so or where the exception for vaccinated employees applies.  This summary describes the standard’s requirements for physical barriers.

Where barriers are required, they must be of sufficient height and width and situated in a manner to block face-to-face pathways between individuals based on where each person would normally stand or sit. They must either be easily cleanable or disposable.  While the ETS does not specify the type of material that must be used for physical barriers, OSHA explains in the preamble that the material must be impermeable to infectious droplets that are transmitted when an infected individual is sneezing, coughing, breathing, talking, or yelling – such as plastic or acrylic partitions. The barriers must be designed, constructed, and installed to prevent droplets from reaching employees when they are in their normal sitting or standing location relative to the workstation. OSHA recognizes that effective design and installation of physical barriers will differ among workplaces based on job tasks, work processes, potential users, and the physical layout of the work area.

In terms of where barriers need to be installed and where they don’t, the ETS Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Reporting

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Many of you are likely knee-deep in ensuring that your facilities are in compliance with the various components of OSHA’s new Emergency Temporary Standard, with the July 6th compliance deadline upon us.  Our CMC COVID-19 Taskforce has reviewed all 1,000+ pages of OSHA’s ETS and supporting documentation and has as good an understanding of what is required as one can have – although OSHA has left some big question marks and caused a fair amount of head scratching in some areas.  To help you understand precisely what is required of your covered facilities, and to assist with compliance implementation, we have prepared summaries of the major requirements of the ETS.  Look for our summaries here each day over the next week.  The devil is in the details, however, so please reach out if you would like a more nuanced understanding of how the standard applies to your particular facility and what steps you need to take to ensure you are in compliance – and avoid an enforcement action under OSHA’s COVID-19 National Emphasis Program.

Here is a summary of the ETS requirements for reporting:

Reporting

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(r) revises the fatality and hospitalization reporting requirements for COVID-19 cases.  This summary describes the new reporting requirements.

For fatalities, covered employers must report all work-related COVID-19 fatalities within 8 hours of learning of the reportable fatality.  Unlike the requirement to report work-related fatalities under the existing injury and illness reporting standard (29 C.F.R. Section 1904.39), the reporting obligation is not limited to fatalities that occur within 30 days of exposure.

This means if these two factors are present, the case is reportable:

  • The employee died from a confirmed case of COVID-19; and
  • The cause of death was a work-related exposure to COVID-19.

For hospitalizations, covered employers must report all work-related COVID-19 in-patient hospitalization within 24 hours of learning of the reportable in-patient hospitalization.  Similar to fatalities, OSHA did not include in the COVID-19 reporting standard the temporal boundary included in the existing Section 1904.39 reporting standard.  Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Recordkeeping

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Many of you are likely knee-deep in ensuring that your facilities are in compliance with the various components of OSHA’s new Emergency Temporary Standard, with the July 6th compliance deadline upon us.  Our CMC COVID-19 Taskforce has reviewed all 1,000+ pages of OSHA’s ETS and supporting documentation and has as good an understanding of what is required as one can have – although OSHA has left some big question marks and caused a fair amount of head scratching in some areas.  To help you understand precisely what is required of your covered facilities, and to assist with compliance implementation, we have prepared summaries of the major requirements of the ETS.  Look for our summaries here each day over the next week.  The devil is in the details, however, so please reach out if you would like a more nuanced understanding of how the standard applies to your particular facility and what steps you need to take to ensure you are in compliance – and avoid an enforcement action under OSHA’s COVID-19 National Emphasis Program.

Here is a summary of the ETS requirements for recordkeeping:

Recordkeeping

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(q) establishes a new recordkeeping obligation applicable to covered employers requiring the creation and maintenance of a dedicated COVID-19 Log, while leaving in place the existing requirements applicable to all employers (including employers covered by the ETS) to record workplace COVID-19 cases that meet the Section 1904 recordkeeping criteria threshold (days away from work, etc.) on the employer’s OSHA 300 Log.  It also establishes recordkeeping obligations for the COVID-19 Plan that is required by Section 1910.502(c) of the ETS.  This summary describes the new requirements for COVID-19 recordkeeping.

The ETS requires covered employers — unless they have 10 or fewer employees in the entire company — to create, maintain, and make available to regulators COVID-19 records. Most notably, this requires covered employers to maintain a COVID-19 Log on which they must record every instance of a COVID-19-positive employee, whether or not the illness is work-related¸ with the limited exception of employees who exclusively telework.  Unlike an OSHA 300 Log, for which employers have seven days to record an injury or illness, positive COVID-19 cases must be recorded on the COVID-19 Log within 24 hours of learning of the positive diagnosis.  (Note that the 10 or fewer employee exemption applies to the new COVID-19 Log recordkeeping obligations only and not to a covered employer’s obligation to report work-related COVID-19 fatality or in-patient hospitalizations.) Continue reading

Fed OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS: What You Need to Know About Hazard Assessments and COVID-19 Plans

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Many of you are likely knee-deep in ensuring that your facilities are in compliance with the various components of OSHA’s new Emergency Temporary Standard, with the July 6th compliance deadline nearly upon us.  Our CMC COVID-19 Taskforce has reviewed all 1,000+ pages of OSHA’s ETS and supporting documentation and has as good an understanding of what is required as one can have – although OSHA has left some big question marks and caused a fair amount of head scratching in some areas.  To help you understand precisely what is required of your covered facilities, and to assist with compliance implementation, we have prepared summaries of the major requirements of the ETS.  Look for our summaries here each day over the next week.  The devil is in the details, however, so please reach out if you would like a more nuanced understanding of how the standard applies to your particular facility and what steps you need to take to ensure you are in compliance – and avoid an enforcement action under OSHA’s COVID-19 National Emphasis Program.

One of the first steps employers must take is to conduct a hazard assessment of your operations to determine those areas where risk of virus transmission exists, and to then develop a response plan for dealing with those risks.  The hazard assessment findings and your plans for transmission mitigation must be incorporated into a written COVID-19 Plan.  Here is a summary of the ETS requirements for conducting the hazard assessment and preparing a written plan:

29 C.F.R. Section 1910.502(c) requires all employers covered by the ETS to develop and implement a COVID-19 Plan for each workplace. If the employer has more than 10 employees, the Plan must be written. This summary describes the requirements associated with the COVID-19 Plan.

Before developing the Plan, employers must conduct a workplace specific hazard assessment for the purpose of identifying and understanding where potential COVID-19 hazards exist and what controls must be implemented to reduce those hazards. Employers must inspect the entire workplace and the hazard assessment should: Continue reading

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: Continue reading

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