Annual Increase in OSHA’s Civil Penalty Authority Kicks In January 15th

By Lindsay DiSalvo and Eric J. Conn

As of January 15, 2021, civil penalties for workplace safety and health violations issued by federal OSHA will increase by about 1.2%.  This increase reflects the annual inflation adjustment to civil monetary penalties initiated back in 2016.  As in prior years, though the increase seems minimal, the impact of these annual increases in the aggregate is significant, as OSHA’s civil penalty authority has nearly doubled from what it was just 5 years ago.

How the Annual Penalty Adjustments Started

Over the past several years, we have seen civil monetary penalty increases of about 1%-2% each year, but this all started with a huge spike in permissible penalty amounts through a statute covertly passed during the Obama Administration.  Specifically, in an effort to avert a government shutdown, outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Barack Obama made a backroom deal that ultimately took the form of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.  That measure included the “Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvements Act” – a significant and controversial statute that was essentially unknown (including by the folks within OSHA) and saw exactly zero seconds of debate on the floor.

The Act mandated that essentially all executive agencies increase their maximum civil penalty authority by the percent increase to the Consumer Price Index since the last time the agencies had raised their penalties.  As OSHA’s civil penalty authority had been stagnant for 25 years, the “catch-up” penalty increase was the most significant at OSHA.  Per the formula included in the statute, OSHA was required to increase its penalties on August 1, 2016 by nearly 80%.

In addition to the one-time 80% “catch up” increase that went into effect on August 1, 2016, the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvements Act required that agencies make automatic annual updates thereafter (by January 15th each year) to civil penalties based on inflation.  OSHA made its Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President-Elect Biden Announces Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his Choice for Secretary of Labor

By: Kara M. Maciel, Eric J. Conn, and Beeta B. Lashkari

On January 7, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden announced his much-awaited choice for nominee to serve as Secretary of Labor, selecting Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.  Mayor Walsh made his mark as a labor leader, ultimately heading the Building and Construction Trades Council from 2011 to 2013.   Mr. Walsh was also a full-time legislator, serving in the Massachusetts state legislature for some 17 years before being elected mayor in 2014.Picture1

If confirmed, it is expected that Mayor Walsh’s close personal friendship with President-elect Biden will elevate the importance of the Labor Department in President Biden’s cabinet, allowing a Secretary Walsh significant influence in the Administration.

Mayor Walsh’s strong ties to organized labor and his selection follows through on President-elect Biden’s campaign promise to give unions a stronger voice in labor policy in his Administration. Mayor Walsh has a reputation as a “pragmatic deal maker,” and he is respected in Massachusetts by both business and labor for his reasonable approach to solving labor and employment issues facing the state.

Of the many issues likely to be tackled by the Labor Department over the next few years, one of the first and most impactful will be the likely issuance of a federal COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard by OSHA.  President-elect Biden has pledged to have OSHA quickly address this issue.  If a federal ETS is promulgated, it would replace the current Administration’s approach, which has relied heavily on CDC and agency guidance, as well as existing OSHA standards, like the respiratory protection standard and recordkeeping rules, to issue citations.  With respect to COVID-19, under Mayor Walsh’s leadership, the City of Boston implemented a Continue reading

[Client Alert] New California Employment Laws for 2021 Will Leave Their Mark

By Andrew Sommer, Fred Walter, and Megan Shaked

2020 has been another banner year for California employment laws, with legislation and Cal/OSHA rulemaking associated with COVID-19 prevention and reporting taking center stage.  In our annual update of new employment laws impacting California private sector employers, we lead off with California’s COVID-19 related laws, given their far-reaching impact on the state’s workforce during the pandemic as employers continue to implement measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.  We have also addressed other substantive legislative developments, particularly in the areas of wage and hour law and reporting of employee pay data.  Unless otherwise indicated, these new laws will take effect on January 1, 2021.

COVID-19 Related Rulemaking and Legislation

Temporary Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Rule Not to be outdone by Virginia OSHA, Oregon OSHA or Michigan OSHA, Cal/OSHA adopted an onerous COVID-19 specific temporary emergency regulation effective November 30, 2020.  Below is a detailed summary of how we got here, as well as an outline of what the rule requires.

On November 19, 2020, the California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Standards Board) voted unanimously to adopt an Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Rule following a contentious public hearing with over 500 participants in attendance (albeit virtually).  The Emergency Rule was then presented to California’s Office of Administrative Law for approval and publication.  The Rule brings with it a combination of requirements overlapping with and duplicative of already-existing state and county requirements applicable to employers, as well as a number of new and, in some cases, very burdensome compliance obligations.

The Standards Board’s emergency rulemaking was triggered last May with the submission of a Petition for an emergency rulemaking filed by worker advocacy group WorkSafe and National Lawyers’ Guild, Labor & Employment Committee.  The Petition requested the Board amend Title 8 standards to create two new regulations Continue reading

VOSH and the Virginia Dept. of Health Adopt Big Changes to Employers’ COVID-19 Requirements

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Virginia made two significant changes to its COVID-19 regulatory landscape last week as it relates to quarantine measures and reporting positive cases to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

First, VDH has officially adopted CDC’s new quarantine guidance.  VDH and CDC continue to recommend a quarantine period of 14 days.  However, CDC guidance now includes two additional options for how long quarantine should last.  The safest option is still to quarantine for 14 days after last exposure, shorter quarantine periods are acceptable for close contacts who are quarantining but who have not experienced any systems.  Specifically, asymptomatic close contacts may end a quarantine after day 10 without testing, or after day 7 with a negative PCR or negative antigen test, if the test was performed on or after day 5.  It is still important to watch for symptoms of COVID-19 until 14 days after exposure, and to take other prevention measures including wearing a mask, distancing, and frequent hand washing.

VDH formally adopted this revised quarantine guidance in an announcement on its website for everyone except healthcare workers or healthcare facilities.  VDH recommends that Continue reading

[FAQs] Lessons Learned from the Roll-out of Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard

On December 7, 2020, Eric J. Conn (Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice), Susan Wilcox (a CIH and CSP with Safety Resource Associates in Virginia), and special guest Jennifer Rose (VOSH Cooperative Programs Director with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry) presented a webinar regarding Lessons Learned from the Roll-out of Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard.

Earlier this Summer, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to reduce COVID-19 infections in the workplace, when Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”).  VOSH’s COVID-19 ETS went to effect on July 27th, with major elements of the rule kicking in in August and September.

Now, several months into implementation of the COVID-19-specific regulation, we checked in on the status of the rule, challenges employers have faced complying with it, and enforcement issues. We are pleased to share links to a copy of the slides and a recording of the webinar. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

3rd Annual (Virtual) Process Safety Summit – December 8-9, 2020

Register today for the 3rd Annual (Virtual) Process Safety Summit on December 8-9, 2020.

Like so many other aspects of our lives, our Annual Process Safety Summit in Washington, DC will look a little different in the year of COVID-19.  Rather than gathering together in person in our Nation’s Capital for two full days in October, the 3rd Annual Process Safety Summit will be a virtual event, and it will take place in shorter segments on December 8-9, 2020.

But what will not change is the Summit’s one-of-a-kind opportunity to convene safety and legal professionals from chemical manufacturing, petroleum refining, paper, and other process industries with the senior government officials responsible for regulating process safety.  Check out our working agenda and register today.

What is the Process Safety Summit in Washington, DC?

The Process Safety Summit in Washington, DC is an annual event, typically based in our nation’s Capital.  The 2nd Annual Summit last Fall welcomed more than 175 safety, process safety, and legal professionals from stakeholders in the chemical, petrochemical, paper, and petroleum refining industries, and other industries with operations covered by OSHA’s PSM Standard and EPA’s RMP Rule. The Summit focuses on the process safety regulatory landscape and industry best practices, with programming that covers rulemaking, enforcement programs, significant cases, trends as we move through the Trump Administration and into a Biden Administration, best practices, and other key process safety regulatory issues impacting Industry.

This Summit fills an important gap for employers operating the process safety regulatory environment.

Continue reading

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

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what will happen next:

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

[Webinar] Lessons Learned from the Roll-out of Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard

On Monday, December 7th at 1 PM ET, join Eric J. Conn (Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice), Susan Wilcox (a CIH and CSP with Safety Resource Associates in Virginia), and special guest Jennifer Rose (VOSH Cooperative Programs Director with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry) for a webinar regarding Lessons Learned from the Roll-out of Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard.

Earlier this Summer, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to reduce COVID-19 infections in the workplace, when Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”). The COVID-19 ETS, which was drafted by Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry, requires Virginia employers to:
  • Assess potential exposures to COVID-19 in the workplace
  • Categorize the level of risk of exposure from Low to Very High (each with different mitigation requirements)
  • Develop and implement a written infection control plan
  • Provide employee training on the virus and control measures in the workplace
  • Make certain notifications about infected employees to co-workers, to VOSH, and to the VA Dept. of Health
VOSH’s COVID-19 ETS went to effect on July 27th, with major elements of the rule kicking in in August and September. Now, several months into implementation of the COVID-19-specific regulation, we check on the status of the rule, challenges employers have faced complying with it, and enforcement issues. Participants in this webinar will learn:

Continue reading

[Webinar Recording] Process Safety Update: The Latest with OSHA PSM & EPA RMP

On November 17, 2020, Eric J. ConnMicah Smith and Beeta Lashkari presented a complimentary webinar: Process Safety Update: The Latest with OSHA PSM & EPA RMP.

Following the 2013 West Fertilizer explosion, then-President Obama issued Exec. Orders directing OSHA, EPA and other agencies to “modernize” the chemical process safety regulatory landscape. OSHA and EPA took sweeping actions, from enforcement initiatives (like a new PSM National Emphasis Program) to rulemakings and interpretation letters.

Then President Trump took office with a de-regulatory agenda.  But rather than unwavering deregulation, Trump Admin. initiatives in this area have been splintered, with some deregulatory work proceeding (e.g., rollback of RMP amendments), others coming to a complete halt (e.g., PSM reform rulemaking), and still others moving forward like business as usual (e.g., the Chem/REF PSM NEP inspections and the CSB’s new accidental release reporting rule).  And now, with the Presidential Election behind us (sort of), and a new Biden Administration looming, we could see another significant shake-up of the regulatory landscape.

This webinar reviews the status and likely future of OSHA’s PSM Standard and EPA’s RMP Rule, CSB developments, and other process safety issues, such as the recent 10th Cir. Decision on PSM application to interconnected and co-located vessels.

We are pleased to share links to a copy of the slides and a recording of the webinar Continue reading

What Employers Need to Know About Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccines

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

With the availability of a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine edging closer and closer, employers understandably have a number of questions regarding their role in the workplace – whether and when they can require a vaccination, what exceptions are required in a mandatory vaccination program, and whether they should require (as opposed to encourage and facilitate) the COVID-19 vaccine for employees once it becomes available. 

This summer, the World Health Organization reported that nearly 200 potential vaccines were currently being developed in labs across the world, and as of mid-October, disclosed that more than 40 had advanced to clinical stage testing on humans.  Drug manufacturers estimate that a vaccine will be ready and approved for general use by the end of this year, although logistically not ready for widespread distribution until mid-2021.

Indeed, just over the past couple of weeks, Pfizer and Moderna have made promising announcements regarding the results of their clinical trials.  Namely, on Monday, November 9, 2020, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that a vaccine candidate against COVID-19 achieved success in the firm interim analysis from the Phase 3 study.  The vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first interim efficacy analysis.  According to the announcement, submission for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planned for soon after the required safety milestone is achieved, which is currently expected to occur this week.  Additionally, as reported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on November 16, 2020, there have been promising interim results from a clinical trial of a NIH-Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.  An independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) reported that the vaccine candidate was safe and well-tolerated and noted a vaccine efficacy rate of 94.5%.

As the reality of a vaccination nears, employers are inquiring whether they can and should mandate the vaccine for their employees.

  1. Can Employers Require Employees to Take the COVID-19 Vaccine?

As a threshold matter, it should be noted that according to a member of the federal advisory panel on immunizations that will be making recommendations to the CDC on who should get the first doses, vaccines authorized under the FDA’s emergency use authority, as these COVID-19 vaccinations will be at the start, cannot be mandated.  Any COVID-19 vaccine brought to market under an EUA instead of the normal non-emergency approval process will, by necessity, lack long term safety data.

In general though, outside the context of EUA vaccine, employers can require vaccination as a term and condition of employment, but such practice is not without limitations, nor is it always recommended.  Although the issue is only now coming to the forefront because of COVID-19, mandatory vaccinations in the workplace are not new, and have been particularly prevalent among healthcare providers for decades.  Some variability exists under federal law and among federal agencies, but for the most part, mandatory vaccination programs are permissible, as long as employers consider religious accommodation requests under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and medical accommodation requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Continue reading

Oregon OSHA Issues Final COVID-19 Temporary Standard (Compliance Deadlines in Early December)

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Earlier this week, on Monday, November 9, 2020, Oregon OSHA released its final COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (the “OR ETS”) after several delays.  Employers will have to act quickly to come into compliance, as the ETS goes into effect November 16th, with a series of major deadlines coming due in early December.

The ETS includes one set of mandates for all workplaces and another set for what it defines as “workplaces of exceptional risk” — namely those that include job duties related to direct patient care, aerosol-generating or post-mortem procedures, in-home care and/or direct client service in residential care or assisted living facilities.  The OR ETS also includes an appendix with “mandatory guidance” for 19 specific industries and/or workplace activities, including:

  • restaurants and bars;
  • retail;
  • construction;
  • veterinary clinics; and
  • entertainment facilities.

Explaining the need for an emergency rule, leadership at OR OSHA said this:

“The COVID-19 emergency has highlighted the risks that any infectious disease, particularly one that is airborne, can create for a wide variety of workplaces. As a result of both the immediate and long-term risks highlighted by the current public and occupational health crisis, Oregon OSHA is responding to the request that the state adopt an enforceable workplace health rule on an emergency basis this summer, to be replaced by a permanent rule.”

Oregon OSHA has plans to release materials on its website to support work on the risk assessment, the written exposure control plan, and the training activities required in the rule.  Presently, there is a template exposure risk assessment form available. The agency also released a poster that employers must post in the workplace.

For the majority of employers, the OR ETS requires that they Continue reading

[Webinar] Process Safety Update: The Latest with OSHA PSM & EPA RMP

On Tuesday, November 17th at 1 PM Eastern, join Eric J. Conn, Micah Smith and Beeta Lashkari for a complimentary webinar: Process Safety Update: The Latest with OSHA PSM & EPA RMP.

Following the 2013 West Fertilizer explosion, then-President Obama issued Exec. Orders directing OSHA, EPA and other agencies to “modernize” the chemical process safety regulatory landscape. OSHA and EPA took sweeping actions, from enforcement initiatives (like a new PSM National Emphasis Program) to rulemakings and interpretation letters.

Then President Trump took office with a de-regulatory agenda.  But rather than unwavering deregulation, Trump Admin. initiatives in this area have been splintered, with some deregulatory work proceeding (e.g., rollback of RMP amendments), others coming to a complete halt (e.g., PSM reform rulemaking), and still others moving forward like business as usual (e.g., the Chem/REF PSM NEP inspections and the CSB’s new accidental release reporting rule).  And now, with the Presidential Election behind us (sort of), and a new Biden Administration looming, we could see another significant shake-up of the regulatory landscape.

This webinar reviews the status and likely future of OSHA’s PSM Standard and EPA’s RMP Rule, CSB developments, and other process safety issues, such as the recent 10th Cir. Decision on PSM application to interconnected and co-located vessels.

Click here to register for the November 17th webinar. Continue reading

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

By the Conn Maciel Carey COVID-19 Task Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Important COVID-19 Update: “Close Contact” Redefined to Mean 15 Cumulative Minutes

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We want to alert you to a significant COVID-19 development out of the CDC yesterday.  Specifically, the CDC just announced a material revision to its definition of “Close Contact.”  The new definition makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, not just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.

Here is the new definition included on the CDC’s website:

Close Contact – Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

* Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). Data are limited, making it difficult to precisely define “close contact;” however, 15 cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of 6 feet or less can be used as an operational definition for contact investigation. Factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity (closer distance likely increases exposure risk), the duration of exposure (longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the infected individual has symptoms (the period around onset of symptoms is associated with the highest levels of viral shedding), if the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols (e.g., was coughing, singing, shouting), and other environmental factors (crowding, adequacy of ventilation, whether exposure was indoors or outdoors). Because the general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95, the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE.  At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using fabric face coverings is not recommended.​

CDC’s revised view of what constitutes a Close Contact is based on an exposure study at a correctional facility.  Here is the CDC’s public notice about the correctional facility analysis.  The analysis apparently revealed that virus was spread to a 20-year-old prison employee who interacted with individuals who later tested positive for the virus, after 22 interactions that took place over 17 minutes during an eight-hour shift.  

An important consequence of this revision is the impact it will have on employers’ ability to maintain staffing because it establishes a much lower threshold trigger for required quarantine.  Recall that

Continue reading

MI OSHA is the 2nd State OSH Plan to Adopt a COVID-19 Emergency Rule: How to Comply in 5 (Not-So-Easy) Steps

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Reacting quickly to the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision striking down a series of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 Executive Orders, Michigan OSHA issued a series of COVID-19 emergency rules on October 14 to fill the void—many of which mirror the requirements imposed on employers by the Governor’s prior Executive Orders.  When Gov Whitmer signed the Emergency Rules Order, Michigan became only the second state in the country with a set of enforceable, COVID-19 specific regulation.

MIOSHA’s new COVID-19 emergency rules, which became effective immediately and which will remain in effect for 6 months, require employers to:

  • conduct workplace risk assessments for COVID-19 exposures;
  • develop a written exposure control plan; and
  • adopt a series of workplace protections.

“While most Michigan job providers are doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, these rules provide them with clarity regarding the necessary requirements to keep their workplaces safe and their employees healthy,” said Gov. Whitmer. “I will continue to work around the clock with my partners in labor and business to ensure protections for every Michigan worker.”

Because MIOSHA’s rule uses pretty vague language and is lean on detail, the agency has already begun to issue FAQs explaining what some of the provisions of the rule mean.  Here is the first batch of FAQs:

While MIOSHA had already been aggressively citing employers under the General Duty Clause over the past few months, most of those citation directly referenced Gov. Whitmer’s now-invalidated COVID-19 Executive Orders. Michigan employers can now be cited for violating these specific regulations.  At the same time, however, Republican legislators have sent a series of bills to Governor Whitmer that include liability protections for employers that comply with MI OSHA guidelines, making compliance with these rules all the more important.

Employers with operations in Michigan wishing to avoid citations should take the following 5 steps  as soon as practically possible: (1) Assess; (2) Plan; (3) Protect; (4) train; and (5) document.

STEP 1:  Conduct Workplace Assessment & Make Exposure Determinations (ASSESS)

Employers must evaluate Continue reading

The Intersection of COVID-19, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Age Discrimination in Employment Act

By Ashley D. Mitchell

As the U.S. enters month seven of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers continue to grapple with how to keep employees safe without violating the rights of employees protected by the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has issued guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace encouraging employers to: (1) actively encourage sick employees to stay home; (2) conduct daily in person health checks such as temperature and symptom screenings; and (3) ensure that workers are able to follow social distancing guidelines as much as practicable and encouraging employees to wear face masks where social distancing is not possible. Employers should remain vigilant against enacting policies meant to keep employees safe but have a disparate impact on employees in a protected class.

The Americans with Disability Act

The Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against job applicants and/or employees with disabilities. If a job applicant or employee has a disability and requests an accommodation, employers must engage in an interactive process and are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to the extent it does not cause the employer undue hardship.

In the context of COVID-19, employers may screen employees entering the workplace for COVID-19 symptoms consistent with CDC guidance. For example, an employer may: (1) ask questions about COVID-19 diagnosis or testing, COVID-19 symptoms, and exposure to anyone with COVID-19 (but employers should be sure the question is broad and does not ask employees about specific family members so as not to run afoul of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”)); (2) take an employee’s temperature; and (3) administer COVID-19 viral tests (but not anti-body tests). If an employee is screened and has symptoms that the CDC has identified as consistent with COVID-19, the employer may – and indeed, should – exclude the employee from the workplace. It is also okay – and again, advisable – for an employer to send an employee home who reports feeling ill during the workday. Continue reading

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

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

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

History of E-Recordkeeping Rule

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

More specifically, the 2016 E-Recordkeeping Rule required:

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

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

CDC Guidance for Retail and Service Industries on Workplace Violence Associated with COVID-19 Policies

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

In recent months, we have heard too many stories and seen too many viral videos about retail clerks and restaurant employees facing violent attacks and threats from belligerent anti-mask customers who have been refused service or otherwise asked to adhere to the mask mandates issued by the Governors or Health Departments in their states.  This includes the tragic tale of the store security guard who was shot and killed in Michigan after telling a customer at a discount store to wear a state-mandated face mask.

Responding to the surge in workplace violence faced by retailers and others in the service industries, on September 1, 2020, the CDC issued guidance on Limiting Workplace Violence Associated with COVID-19 Prevention Policies in Retail and Services Businesses.  The new guidance covers how to manage the threat of violence from customers or others who are asked to comply with Governors’ or Health Department mandates or the businesses’ own infection control policies, such as requiring masks to be worn by customers, asking customers to follow social distancing rules, and setting limits on the number of customers allowed inside at one time.  Specifically, the guidance discourages retailers from becoming the enforcer in these situations, and includes recommendations like calling 911 and not arguing with a customer who refuses to comply with the rules. 

This guidance is vital as we have seen the opposite instruction from such governmental agencies as Michigan OSHA (“MIOSHA”), Oregon OSHA (“OR OSHA”), and the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (“NMOHSB”).  Indeed, those state OSH Programs have been issuing citations and shutdown orders for retailers and restaurants who do not refuse service to customers unwilling to wear a face covering onsite.  CDC’s guidance will hopefully force these agencies to be sensible about the terrible dilemma they are forcing on businesses and their front line employees who feel the brunt of these enforcement policies that would turn them into law enforcement. Continue reading

Conn Maciel Carey Expands Midwest Practice with Addition of Talented L&E Attorney

Conn Maciel Carey LLP, a boutique law firm with national practices in OSHA • Workplace Safety, Labor & Employment, and Litigation, is pleased to announce that Ashley Mitchell has joined the firm as an attorney in its Chicago office.

Ms. Mitchell, an employment litigator, will represent clients in a wide range of employment litigation and counsel clients on the myriad legal issues employers face in the workplace.  She also will defend employers in inspections, investigations and enforcement actions involving federal OSHA and neighboring state plan agencies.

“Ashley brings a unique perspective to our employment litigation, counseling and training practice having started her career working with prominent plaintiff-side employment law firms here in Chicago, where she also developed experience dealing with policies, procedures and practices that directly impact workplace safety and health,” said Aaron Gelb, co-head of the firm’s Chicago office.  “Ashley is ideally suited to pivot from working on pension withdrawal matters one day to preparing for a labor arbitration the next,” said Mark Trapp, co-head of the Chicago office.

“We are committed to strategically growing our practices and geographic locations, and adding Ashley to our seasoned team in the Midwest will allow Conn Maciel Carey to continue to provide the excellent client service with a focus on practical and creative advice that our national and regional clients are looking for,” said Kara Maciel, Chair of the firm’s Labor • Employment Practice. Eric Conn, Chair of the firm’s OSHA • Workplace Safety Practice added, Continue reading

[Webinar] Technology Solutions for Complying with COVID-19 Requirements

On Tuesday, September 8th at 1 PM ET, join Eric J. Conn (Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice) and Nick Eurek (President and Co-Founder of Maptician) for a complimentary webinar regarding “Technology Solutions for Complying with COVID-19 Requirements.” 

In July, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory rule with a set of requirements designed to protect workers from COVID-19 infections in the workplace.  For example, Virginia employers must:

  • Assess and categorize potential exposures to COVID-19 in the workplace
  • Implement a written infection control and response plan
  • Promptly notify potentially exposed co-workers, VOSH/OSHA, and/or the Department of Health about infected workers

But Virginia’s rule really just memorializes the widespread, already enforceable guidance from federal OSHA, the CDC, state and local departments of health, and governors’ offices all across the country, so the policies and controls that must be implemented in Virginia are by and large needed everywhere.

Continue reading

OSHA and FDA Issue COVID-19 Checklist for Food Industry Workplaces

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On August 19, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a detailed checklist for human and animal food manufacturers to consider when continuing, resuming or reevaluating operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The stated purpose of the new guidance document is “for FDA-regulated human and animal food operations to use when assessing operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when re-starting operations after a shut down or when reassessing operations because of changes due to the COVID-19 public health emergency caused by the virus SARS-CoV.”

The checklist is intended to guide employers who grow, harvest, pack, manufacture, process or hold human and animal food regulated by FDA, and covers nearly every (if not every) topic related to COVID-19 including:

  • Employee health screenings;
  • Operation configuration for social distancing;
  • Recommended engineering controls (e.g., physical barriers and adequate ventilation);
  • Communication and training;
  • Signage;
  • Coordination with public health officials;
  • Exposure scenarios and return-to-work criteria;
  • Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette;
  • Flexible sick leave policies;
  • Cleaning/disinfecting; and
  • PPE and face coverings.

The checklist also includes some more topics somewhat unique to the food industry, such as:

  • Shared/communal housing;
  • Recommendations for critical infrastructure workers;
  • Social distancing configurations for harvesting and along production lines; and
  • Process Safety Management considerations for facilities with ammonia refrigeration systems that may have been shut down. 
Continue reading

CDC Revises its COVID-19 Return-to-Work Criteria, Again

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On July 20, 2020, the U.S. Centers Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) made major revisions to its COVID-19 “discontinue home isolation” guidance, upon which employers may rely to determine when it is safe for employees to return to work.  This comes only a couple months after CDC made major revisions to the same guidance document when, on May 3, 2020, it extended the home isolation period from 7 to 10 days since symptoms first appeared for the symptom-based strategy in persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms, and from 7 to 10 days after the date of their first positive test for the time-based strategy in asymptomatic persons with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19.

In its most recent update, Picture1CDC has determined that a test-based strategy is no longer recommended to determine when to discontinue home isolation, except in certain circumstances.  It has also modified its symptom-based strategy in part by changing the number of hours that must pass since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medication from “at least 72 hours” to “at least 24 hours.”  CDC’s revisions should trigger employers to immediately revise their COVID-19 preparedness, response, and control plans to account for the latest changes.  In light of the recent COVID-19 regulation that Virginia promulgated almost at the same time that CDC decided to update its guidance, the revisions also demonstrate that COVID-19 is not the type of hazard easily subject to a regulatory standard.

Revised Guidance

To start, it is important to understand the major changes that CDC has just made.  As you know, prior to CDC’s most recent changes, CDC offered individuals with COVID-19 who had symptoms two options for discontinuing home isolation:

  1. a symptom-based strategy; and
  2. a test-based strategy.

It also offered individuals with COVID-19 who never showed symptoms two options:

  1. a time-based strategy; and
  2. a test-based strategy.

With its most recent update, CDC has essentially eliminated Continue reading

Michigan OSHA Launches COVID-19 Enforcement Emphasis Program Targeting Retail and Restaurants

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Over the course of the last month, several of our retail clients have been visited by Michigan OSHA (MIOSHA) for COVID-19 enforcement inspections in circumstances without an employee complaint or any self-reported work-related COVID-19 hospitalization or death.  The reason for these inspections, it turns out, is MIOSHA has launched a State Emphasis Program (SEP) on COVID-19 in Bars, Restaurants, Gas Stations, Grocery and Convenience Stores, and Other Retail.  We got our hands on the Directive for the Emphasis Program. Here’s a summary of what Michigan employers in those industries need to know about MIOSHA’s new enforcement strategy.

The Directive lays out MIOSHA’s approach for selecting various retail and hospitality workplaces for programmed inspections about COVID-19 infection control.

The stated purposes of the Emphasis Program is to “increase MIOSHA’s presence in retail establishments to ensure workers are protected from SARS-CoV-2,” because “employees who come in contact with large numbers of people as a result of their employment [like in retail] are at elevated risk of infection.”

The inspections are evaluating the employer’s adherence to Governor Whitmer’s Executive Orders for COVID-19, OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, and applicable CDC guidance for COVID-19.

The agency has created a targeting list of retail/hospitality businesses broken down as follows:

Continue reading