More On Cal/OSHA’s Proposed Amendments to its COVID-19 ETS

By Fred Walter

In our May 11th blog article, we covered some of the most important changes to Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standard that the Division has proposed for approval at the next Cal/OSHA Standards Board meeting later this week on May 20, 2021. Here we offer some additional insights into the amendments and their likely impact on California employers.

Face coverings: The new language mentions several options for face coverings but does not mention a popular one — gaiters. Responding to a question we presented to the Division, Cal/OSHA confirmed that gaiters can be an acceptable face covering if they are doubled over to create two layers of protection.

Written notice of COVID-19 cases: Verbal notice can be substituted where the employer has reason to know that an employee will not get the written notice or has such “limited literacy” that a written notice will be ineffective.

Testing: The requirement that employers “offer” testing, which was ambiguous from Day One, has been changed to: “Make … testing available…,” an almost completely verbatim copy of a suggestion made in written comments by CMC’s California Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition during the Advisory Committee process. You’re welcome Cal/OSHA.

The requirements that the test be free to the employee and conducted on company time remain. In a bit of foresight, the new rule will provide an exception for employees who are fully vaccinated before a close contact and remain symptom-free.

Training: This and other sections of the new regulation signal a shift to what might be called “mandatory-voluntary” use of the N95. 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

“What’s The Hazard” Podcast – Special Guest Eric Conn of Conn Maciel Carey

Conn Maciel Carey’s Co-Founder and OSHA Practice Chair, Eric J. Conn, made a special guest appearance on the most recent episode of the “What’s The Hazard” safety podcast series hosted by Doug Fletcher, of Fletcher Safety Consulting.

During this interview, Eric shared an OSHA defense counsel’s insight about the highly anticipated Federal OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard, and tips for employers about managing OSHA inspections, including the most important steps to prepare for inspections, common mistakes employers make during inspections, and strategies to achieve successful outcomes at the end of inspections.

Click here to listen to the full podcast.

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

COVID-19 OSHA Enforcement and Regulatory Update [Webinar Recording]

On  April 20, 2021, Aaron GelbAmanda Strainis-Walker and Dan Deacon presented a webinar regarding a “COVID-19 OSHA Enforcement and Regulatory Update.

Since the 2020 presidential election was decided, employers have waited, wondered, and watched for signs to see how President Biden’s OSHA would regulate and enforce COVID-19 safety in the workplace. Although OSHA missed the March 15 deadline set by President Biden in his Day One Executive Order to issue its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), there have been several important developments providing a window into how OSHA will approach COVID-19 enforcement, most notably the agency’s launch of a COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (“COVID-19 NEP”) to focus the agency’s 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.” OSHA also updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan, which details how OSHA’s field staff should conduct COVID-related inspections, including whether they will resume in person inspections or continue conducting them remotely as has been the norm for the past year.

During this webinar, participants learned about: Continue reading

[Webinar] COVID-19 OSHA Enforcement and Regulatory Update

On Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 1:00 P.M. ET, join Aaron Gelb, Amanda Strainis-Walker and Dan Deacon for a webinar regarding a “COVID-19 OSHA Enforcement and Regulatory Update”.

Since the 2020 presidential election was decided, employers have waited, wondered, and watched for signs to see how President Biden’s OSHA would regulate and enforce COVID-19 safety in the workplace. Although OSHA missed the March 15 deadline set by President Biden in his Day One Executive Order to issue its COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), there have been several important developments providing a window into how OSHA will approach COVID-19 enforcement, most notably the agency’s launch of a COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (“COVID-19 NEP”) to focus the agency’s 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.” OSHA also updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan, which details how OSHA’s field staff should conduct COVID-related inspections, including whether they will resume in person inspections or continue conducting them remotely as has been the norm for the past year.

During this webinar, participants will learn about: 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

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard and Vaccinated Workers

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As the number of vaccinated workers continues to rise, and despite guidance from the CDC lifting certain restrictions against fully vaccinated individuals, Cal/OSHA’s current official position, as reflected in its COVID-19 ETS FAQs, is that “[f]or now, all prevention measures must continue to be implemented” for vaccinated persons.  The same set of FAQs, however, also informs us that “[t]he impact of vaccines will likely be addressed in a future revision to the ETS.”  See Cal/OSHA COVID-19 ETS FAQs “Vaccines” FAQ #1.

Following the February 11, 12, and 16 Cal/OSHA COVID-19 ETS Advisory Committee meetings, in which CMC participated on behalf of our California Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition, Deputy Chief of Cal/OSHA Research and Standards shared an updated version of a “Discussion Draft” of the ETS that reflects changes under consideration by the agency.  The issue of how vaccinated employees should be treated under the ETS was a major topic of discussion during the Advisory Committee meetings, and potential changes to the ETS around that are reflected in notes in the Discussion Draft.

While the notes are not necessarily proposed amended regulatory text (rather, they largely incorporate committee members’ feedback ), reading the tea leaves from the Advisory Committee meetings, it is clear that Cal/OSHA Continue reading

Cal/OSHA Advisory Committee Convened as Division Considers Changes to COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Over four months after the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (“Board”) unanimously adopted a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”), the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (the “Division”) has been busy considering potential changes to the emergency regulation.  When the ETS was first adopted, the regulated community scrambled to understand and implement the regulation.  The Division issued numerous Frequently Asked Questions in January, February and March, but many questions remained unanswered.

Cal ETS Advisory CommitteeIn February, the Division convened an Advisory Committee to provide input on possible changes to the ETS.  The Advisory Committee consisted of members from business and industry, labor and community groups, public agencies, and the health sciences.  A coalition of California employers organized by Conn Maciel Carey – the California Employer COVID-19 Prevention Coalition (the “Coalition”) – was one of a very small group of industry representatives invited to participate on the Advisory Committee.

Ahead of the Advisory Committee meetings, which were held on February 11, 12 and 16, Cal/OSHA circulated Discussion Drafts reflecting changes to be considered during the meetings.  Over the course of the 3-day Advisory Committee meeting, the Coalition had the opportunity to provide meaningful input on it members’ concerns and recommendations to improve the ETS.

On March 2, the Coalition submitted written comments to the Chief of the Division.  The Coalition addressed a variety of concerns, including suggesting the Division: Continue reading

Annual Cal/OSHA Update: Legislation, Regulations, Guidance, Executive Orders and More! Oh My! [Webinar Recording]

On March 23, 2021, Andrew J. SommerFred Walter and Megan Shaked presented a webinar regarding Annual Cal/OSHA Update: Legislation, Regulations, Guidance, Executive Orders and More! Oh My!

This year’s annual Cal/OSHA update covered the latest legislative, regulatory and enforcement developments concerning COVID-19, including the Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Rule. We also alerted you to new regulatory changes concerning the Wildfire Smoke rule, various proposed rules being considered by Cal/OSH Standards Board, and general DOSH enforcement trends.

Participants in this webinar learned about: 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

Annual Cal/OSHA Update: Legislation, Regulation, Guidance, Executive Orders and More! Oh My! [Webinar]

On Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at 1:00 P.M. PT / 4:00 P.M. ET, join Andrew J. Sommer, Fred Walter and Megan Shaked for a webinar regarding “Annual Cal/OSHA Update: Legislation, Regulation, Guidance, Executive Orders and More! Oh My!

This year’s annual Cal/OSHA update will cover the latest legislative, regulatory and enforcement developments concerning COVID-19, including the Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Rule. We will also alert you to new regulatory changes concerning the Wildfire Smoke rule, various proposed rules being considered by Cal/OSH Standards Board, and general DOSH enforcement trends.

Participants in this webinar will learn about: Continue reading

Update about the Chemical Safety Board [Webinar Recording]

On March 16, 2021, Eric J. ConnMicah Smith and Beeta B. Lashkari presented a webinar regarding “Update about the Chemical Safety Board.”

For a small agency, a lot happened at the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (the CSB) last year – and not all related to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the CSB promulgated an accidental release reporting rule, requiring employers to report certain chemical incidents to the CSB. Although the rule went into effect last Spring, the CSB set a 1-year enforcement “grace period” to allow time for the regulated community to become familiar with the rule, and for the Agency to develop guidance about the new rule. With the grace period ending later this month, on March 23, 2021, it is critical for employers to understand their new compliance obligations.

In addition, with expired terms, early departures, and the swearing in of a new Chairperson (but no other Board members), the CSB’s Board became a “quorum of one” for the first time, begging questions about its authority to vote on mission-critical work product, such as investigation reports, and its ability to conduct the agency’s business. Although Pres. Biden will likely nominate new Board Members, the Senate confirmation process can be a slog, meaning the CSB may maintain a quorum of one for an extended period.

Participants in this webinar learned about: Continue reading

[Webinar] Update about the Chemical Safety Board

On Tuesday, March 16, 2021 from 1:00 P.M. to 2:15 P.M., join Eric J. ConnMicah Smith and Beeta B. Lashkari for a webinar regarding “Update about the Chemical Safety Board.”

For a small agency, a lot happened at the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (the CSB) last year – and not all related to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the CSB promulgated an accidental release reporting rule, requiring employers to report certain chemical incidents to the CSB. Although the rule went into effect last Spring, the CSB set a 1-year enforcement “grace period” to allow time for the regulated community to become familiar with the rule, and for the Agency to develop guidance about the new rule. With the grace period ending later this month, on March 23, 2021, it is critical for employers to understand their new compliance obligations.

In addition, with expired terms, early departures, and the swearing in of a new Chairperson (but no other Board members), the CSB’s Board became a “quorum of one” for the first time, begging questions about its authority to vote on mission-critical work product, such as investigation reports, and its ability to conduct the agency’s business. Although Pres. Biden will likely nominate new Board Members, the Senate confirmation process can be a slog, meaning the CSB may maintain a quorum of one for an extended period.

Participants in this webinar will learn about: 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

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard Survives Two Legal Challenges

By Andrew Sommer, Eric Conn, and Beeta Lashkari

On February 25, 2021, Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman officially ruled on two requests for preliminary injunctions against the implementation of Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS), denying the injunctive relief sought in both cases.

Two separate legal challenges to the ETS were filed a couple of weeks after the rule was adopted by the Cal/OSHA Standards Board.  The first was filed by the National Retail Federation and others, alleging generally that an emergency rule was not necessary and appropriate; i.e., the agency had not asserted facts adequate to establish the existence of an emergency, and therefore, the rushed rulemaking process that ignored stakeholder input was not lawful.  It also alleged that Cal/OSHA overstepped its jurisdictional authority with respect to the ETS provisions mandating wage and benefits continuation.

The second legal challenge was filed by the Western Growers Association and other agricultural interests.  This lawsuit similarly challenged the legality of an emergency rule in this context and the pay and benefits provisions.  It also attacked the provisions regarding employer-provided housing and transportation.

In a 40-page order, Judge Schulman rejected all of the plaintiffs’ arguments, commenting, “No federal or state court in the country has blocked emergency public health orders intended to curb the spread of COVID-19, and the illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths that follow in its wake.  This Court will not be the first.  Lives are at stake.”  Indeed, the cases faced long odds, with Judge Schulman Continue reading

Coalition to Work on Federal OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Rulemaking

Background

In his first day in office, President Biden issued an Executive Order (“EO”) that directed Fed OSHA to revisit its strategy for regulating and enforcing workplace spread of COVID-19.  Among other actions, the EO directed OSHA to consider whether a federal COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) is necessary.  We believe it is a foregone conclusion OSHA will issue an ETS.  The lack of an explicit mandate to do so is likely more a formality than a real open question; i.e., the President prefers the appearance that the workplace safety experts at OSHA made the decision, but the White House has made clear what it expects.

Assuming OSHA determines an ETS is needed, the EO sets a March 15th deadline for OSHA to finalize and issue the rule, so OSHA is surely already working intensely on a COVID-19 ETS.  Although OSHA has not yet confirmed its intent to develop an ETS, we believe it prudent to begin our advocacy efforts as soon as possible, as there will likely be a small pre-rule window to impact the rule before it issues.

The question remains, though, what will a Fed OSHA COVID-19 ETS look like?  We need look no further than the examples set by the State OSH Plans that already have issued COVID-19 ETSs to see the difference between a manageable, effective rule (see Virginia OSHA’s ETS) and a daunting, sometimes unworkable rule (see Cal/OSHA’s ETS). Continue reading

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard [Webinar Recording]

On January 26th, Andrew J. SommerFred Walter and Megan S. Shaked presented a webinar regarding Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard.

Not to be outdone by other State OSH Plans like Virginia OSHA, Oregon OSHA, and Michigan OSHA, Cal/OSHA has adopted its own COVID-19 specific emergency temporary standard, and it is in a league of its own. This standard adds significant, burdensome new compliance obligations to California’s existing slate of state and local requirements applicable to employers.

This webinar provided an overview of the regulation, existing and anticipated guidance provided by Cal/OSHA about it, as well as enforcement efforts by Cal/OSHA to date.  We will also examine the interplay between the emergency temporary standard and other new California legislation, including AB 685 and SB 1159.  Finally, we will help you interpret and avoid common pitfalls from some of the trickier sections of the regulation, such as the Outbreaks and Testing provisions.
Participants in this webinar learned about:

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

What Employers Need to Know about the Pay and Benefits Continuation Elements of Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Rule

By Mark TrappAndrew Sommer, and Beeta Lashkari

On November 30, 2020, Cal/OSHA issued its final COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”), with all of its provisions effective immediately.  One of those provisions — the exclusion pay and benefits continuation requirements — has been at the center of much controversy.

Typical among these COVID-19 emergency rules, the Cal/OSHA regulations requires employers to exclude from the workplace “COVID-19 cases” as well as employees who experience a “close contact” exposure (i.e., contact within 6′ of a confirmed case for a cumulative 15 minutes). But the Cal/OSHA ETS gets controversial at Sec. 3205(c)(10)(C), where it requires employers to continue and maintain those employees’ earnings, seniority, and all other employment rights and benefits, as if the employee had not been removed from the job. Where permitted by law and when not covered by workers’ compensation, employers may use employer-provided employee sick leave benefits, and may consider benefit payments from public sources, in determining how to maintain earnings, rights and benefits.

There are several important exceptions to these exclusion pay and benefits continuation requirements.  For example, the ETS provides that the provision does not kick in for any period of time when the employee is not able to work for reasons other than protecting persons at the workplace from possible COVID-19 transmission.  Likewise, the pay and benefits continuation provision does not apply where the employer can demonstrate the employee’s COVID-19 exposure is not work-related.  Finally, although not characterized as an “exception” specific to the exclusion pay and benefits provision, the ETS does also carve-out employees who can be temporarily reassigned to work where they do not have contact with other persons until applicable return-to-work requirements are met.

To provide some clarification about this pay and benefits continuation provision (as well as most other elements of the ETS), Cal/OSHA has issued two batches of FAQs, most recently updated January 8th.  There are now 10 FAQs related to exclusion pay and benefits, most notable among them: 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