[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

Federal OSHA’s New COVID-19 ETS Standard and Updated COVID-19 Workplace Guidance [Webinar Recording]

On Wednesday, June 16, 2021, Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice presented a webinar regarding Federal OSHA’s New COVID-19 ETS Standard and Updated COVID-19 Workplace Guidance.

On June 10th, federal OSHA finally revealed its much anticipated COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), but rather than a rule applicable to all industries, OSHA developed a regulation that is narrowly tailored only to certain healthcare settings. For everyone else, federal OSHA simultaneously published significant updates to its workplace COVID-19 guidance that it had originally prepared in Jan. 2021 in response to President Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order.

The COVID-19 ETS, and its 900+ page Preamble, is a dizzying piece of regulation.  While there are lots of generalizations about how it applies only to hospital settings, there are quirks in the Applicability section that could sweep in other employers, including on-site medical clinics at manufacturing plants, COVID-19 testing facilities in otherwise non-healthcare workplaces, and general facilities support at healthcare locations, such as maintenance, housekeeping, and laundry services.  And in terms of substantive provisions, the ETS does depart from the COVID-19 landscape we have all grown accustomed to over the past year and a half – the ETS requires creation of new roles, will likely require updates to written prevention plans and training, may require new engineering installations and work on HVAC systems, and will definitely affect record making, recordkeeping, and reporting policies.

The updated guidance for all other industries will also likely result in material changes to the way employers are managing the COVID-19 crisis in the workplace.  However, those will be mostly welcome changes, as, at its core, OSHA’s updated guidance aligns OSHA’s recommendations with the CDC’s May guidance regarding dropping masks and distancing for fully vaccinated workers.  But the devil is in the details.

Participants in this webinar learned the following: Continue reading

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

On June 18, 2021, Andrew J. Sommer and Eric J. Conn presented a webinar regarding Cal/OSHA’s Revised COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard.

The saga around Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) has taken several bizarre twists and turns.  After hurriedly adopting the ETS over Thanksgiving weekend 2020, Cal/OSHA set about this spring to fix some problems with the initial ETS regulatory text.  The agency proposed a revised version of the ETS to be considered by the Cal/OSHA Standards Board in late May 2021, but on the eve of that Standards Board meeting, Cal/OSHA pulled it back, purportedly to address the CDC’s updated guidance about masks and distancing for vaccinated workers. Inexplicably, however, Cal/OSHA produced an updated proposed amended ETS that was more onerous, not less.

On June 3, 2021, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board convened a special meeting to consider the revisions to the ETS.  The public meeting was long and contentious, with 100+ stakeholders testifying lasting late into the evening.  Initially, the Board voted to Continue reading

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS To Be Updated This Week — And They Mean It This Time

By Andrew J. Sommer and Eric J. Conn

We are barreling towards major changes to Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 requirements for California employers expected to take effect on Thursday or Friday of this week.

After the back and forth with the last revised ETS that was voted down, then approved minutes later, the clawed back a few days later to make way for another revised ETS, late last week, Cal/OSHA released the new revised text for its COVID-19 ETS.

The text of what appears now to become the official updated version of Cal/OSHA COVID-19 ETS is available here, and a redline comparison with the presently effective text is here.  Additionally, DOSH has just issued these FAQs clarifying the intent of the proposed revised COVID-19 ETS.

Below is our summary of the major substantive changes coming to the ETS, as compared to the prior proposed revisions (subsequently withdrawn), as well as highlighted guidance that interprets or expands on these anticipated new regulatory requirements.

Substantive Revisions to the ETS Text

As expected, these latest changes were limited given the short window for issuing revisions following the Standards Board’s special meeting earlier this week.  We understood 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

[RESCHEDULED] Cal/OSHA’S Revised COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

Because the Cal/OSHA Standards Board has just pulled back the revisions to the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) and will consider other revisions at its June 17th meeting, we have rescheduled our webinar “Cal/OSHA’s Revised COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard” for June 18, 2021, at 10 a.m. PT.

As background, the Standards Board voted to withdraw the recently approved revised version of the ETS.  The Division is going to introduce by Friday June 11th a new proposed revised ETS that better aligns with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health guidance (i.e., no masking for fully vaccinated workers even if there are some unvaccinated people present).  The new revised ETS that is expected to issue will be voted on at the Board’s next scheduled meeting on June 17th and, if approved, go into effect on June 28th.  Between now and June 28th, the original ETS remains in effect.

Check out the updated description and register below. Continue reading

Adverse Reactions to COVID-19 Vaccines Are NOT Recordable On Your OSHA 300 Log

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Our national OSHA Practice at Conn Maciel Carey has been advocating hard to OSHA about COVID-19 related recordkeeping issues.  One of those issues has been the recordability of adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine.  Specifically, if we want to encourage more workers to get vaccinated, and to encourage more employers to mandate, incentivize, or encourage employees to get vaccinated, OSHA should not require employers to record adverse reactions to the vaccines as days away illnesses on their 300 Logs.

Many people have experienced something of a flu-like reaction to the COVID-19 vaccines, and often have required at least a day away from work the day after the second dose.  OSHA had previously indicated that many of these reactions would be recordable on the OSHA 300 Log, especially if the employer required or strongly encouraged the vaccine, or if the circumstances of the job made vaccination something of a de facto requirement.

In mid-April, OSHA clarified its position in a couple of FAQs about the recordability of adverse reactions to the vaccine in a couple of FAQs on its COVID-19 page.  At that time, OSHA said: Continue reading

How to Navigate the Thorny Legal Landscape Around Employee Vaccination Status

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As the number of vaccinated individuals continues to increase and we are seeing a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases, the landscape of legal requirements applicable to employers and employees is changing, particularly related to employees who are fully vaccinated.  Indeed, in an unexpected update to its guidance last week, the CDC stated that fully vaccinated individuals may resume essentially all indoor and outdoor pre-pandemic activities in almost all circumstances.  Although federal agencies such as OSHA and the EEOC have not yet updated their relevant guidance on treatment of vaccinated workers to reflect these changes, they both have stated their intent to address, and in OSHA’s case follow, the CDC guidance, and many states are doing the same.

Accordingly, employers now, more than ever, must understand and may want to take certain actions based on the vaccination status of their workers.  However, obtaining information on an employee’s status and using that information to dictate policies and practices in the work environment has legal implications and raises many important questions that could pose difficulties for employers who want to ensure that they proceed in compliance with applicable laws.  Below, we provide answers to questions we have received related to employee vaccination status as well as tips to effectively deal with these novel and complex issues.

[6/1/21 UPDATE – Check out our newer article about updated EEOC vaccination guidance that touches on many of these same issues.]

Question 1: Can employers ask employees about their COVID-19 vaccination status?

Yes, but employers should be mindful of compliance with federal and state laws on disability, privacy and discrimination.  If the employer requests confirmation and/or proof that an employee has been fully vaccinated, this should be a simple, straightforward inquiry to determine an employee’s current vaccination status.  Such a simple, general inquiry is legitimate and would be considered permissible under applicable employment laws, particularly if it is made to determine whether: Continue reading

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

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

Attorney Spotlight – Meet Eric Conn!

Eric J. Conn is a founding partner of Conn Maciel Carey and Chair of the firm’s national OSHA • Workplace Safety Practice Group. For more than twenty years now, Eric’s practice has focused exclusively on issues involving occupational safety and health law.

Before launching his own OSHA Practice, Eric practiced for more than a decade alongside the former first General Counsel of the OSH Review Commission. Eric then became Head of an OSHA practice at a large employment law firm that was honored as the “Occupational Health & Safety Law Firm of the Year” by Corporate INTL Magazine in 2014.

Mr. Conn is a popular speaker on OSHA topics, including as the director of Conn Maciel Carey’s annual OSHA Webinar Series, and he regularly keynotes trade group and industry conferences.  He is also the curator of the firm’s award-winning OSHA Blog, the OSHA Defense Report, and he is often quoted as a leader in the field in trade publications.

Eric and his team of OSHA-specialist attorneys develop safety and health regulatory strategies for employers across all industries with a particular emphasis on:

  • Advising and representing employers through inspections, investigations and enforcement actions involving OSHA and other safety-related agencies
  • Managing the full range of litigation against OSHA
  • Representing employers during U.S. DOJ investigations and prosecutions of alleged OSH Act criminal violations
  • Developing and auditing safety programs and policies
  • Providing workplace safety training and compliance counseling for employers

Get to Know Eric!

Where is your favorite vacation spot?   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

Due to Low Risk of COVID-19 Surface Transmission, CDC Relaxes Cleaning and Disinfecting Guidance

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Early in the pandemic, popular sentiment—and to a lesser extent, the scientific community—believed that surface transmission of COVID-19 was one of the primary vectors of transmission.  Over time, however, epidemiologists gained a better understanding of how the virus was most typically transmitted.  As a result, the CDC’s guidance evolved to a point where surface transmission was viewed as a less significant mode of transmission than person-to-person transmission.

Throughout all that, spring cleaning took on a new meaning in 2020, as people rushed to purchase all the disinfectant wipes and sprays they could find, wiping down groceries and mail, sanitizing their hands, and treating door handles like they were radioactive.  Workplace sanitation similarly became an area of emphasis as employers distributed wipes, sprays and pump bottles throughout their facilities, hired additional janitorial staff and, in many cases, spent exorbitant sums on third-party vendors to clean and disinfect the workplace, even introducing aggressive surface cleaning techniques like fogging. And once the hygiene frenzy took hold in the workplace, there has been little reprieve for employers from regulatory bodies.  State and local health departments, federal OSHA and State OSH Plans, and even some state legislatures, recommended or imposed strict sanitization protocols, including requirements to routinely wipe down shared surfaces with disinfectant, to close workplaces for deep cleaning even when days had passed since a COVID-positive individual had been in the area, and implement daily cleaning and disinfecting plans.  The financial cost for employers associated with these requirements rose quickly.  Like pre-shift temperature screens, some of these requirements have persisted even after the science has recognized their limited efficacy.

Earlier this week, more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the CDC has released new guidance clarifying that the risk of contracting COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces is, in fact, quite low. 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

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

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