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

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

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

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

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

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

Goals of the COVID-19 NEP

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

Industries and Workplaces Covered by the NEP

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

Status Update About OSHA’s Emergency COVID-19 Rulemaking

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

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

What Employers Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines [Webinar Recording]

On February 11th, Kara M. MacielFern Fleischer-Daves, and Lindsay A. DiSalvo presented a webinar regarding What Employers Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines.

In December 2020, two COVID-19 vaccines received emergency use authorization from the US government and several more vaccines may be approved in the coming months. In the initial phases, front-line health care workers, nursing home residents, persons over 75 years of age, and others with underlying health conditions were given first priority. Many employers want to have their “essential workers” or all of their workers vaccinated as soon as possible.

During this webinar, Conn Maciel Carey’s OSHA and Labor & Employment attorneys discussed these important questions:

Continue reading

SPECIAL BONUS WEBINAR: COVID-19 Vaccines at the Workplace

On Thursday, February 18th from 1:00 P.M. – 2:15 P.M. (ET), join Conn Maciel Carey for a special bonus webinar regarding COVID-19 Vaccines at the Workplace.

Are you curious how the COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort works or is intended to work?  Is your organization considering standing up an onsite vaccination program or looking into options to facilitate the vaccination of your employees?  As this country embarks on a massive undertaking that involves a series of remarkable public/private partnerships, many employers are anxious to better understand how the supply chain works, who is making prioritization decisions and why, and what they can do now to help increase the number of arms that receive shots.  If you have questions about these issues or other vaccine rollout-related matters, we hope you will join us for an informative panel discussion moderated by Aaron Gelb, Partner in Charge of Conn Maciel Carey’s Chicago Office with special guests:

  • Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO)
  • Michelle Kite, Retail Health and Safety Manager at Walgreens
  • Sonali Kshatriya, Pharmacist and Manager on the Walgreens Clinical Team
  • Fern Fleischer-Daves, OSHA Attorney at Conn Maciel Carey

Participants in this webinar will learn about: 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

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

On Tuesday, January 26th at 12:00 PM PT / 3:00 PM ET, plan to join Andrew J. SommerFred Walter and Megan S. Shaked for 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 will provide 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 will learn about:

Continue reading

Cal/OSHA’S New Budget Raises Questions About The Future of Enforcement

By Fred Walter

Governor Newsom has announced his proposed budget for 2020-2021 and it has some good news and some bad for Cal/OSHA. Under the Governor’s proposal, Cal/OSHA’s overall budget will increase by $12,107,000, or just over 8% to $168,661,000.Cal-OSHA Budget (002)

This will be split between the three arms of Cal/OSHA. The budget for the Standards Board, which adopts regulations, is slated to increase to $3,946,000. The Appeals Board, which hears appeals of citations, is expected to get $6,706,000. But the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) is by far the elephant in the room. Its current budget of $146,743,000 is 24 times that of the Appeals Board and 41 times that of the Standards Board. Its budget for 2021 will be $158,009,000.

The largest piece of the DOSH pie (33%) will go to the Elevator Unit. Consultation, PSM, and the Pressure Vessel Unit each will receive an 8% increase while Mining and Tunneling will get 9%.

But here is where it gets weird. Continue reading

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

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

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

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

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

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

[Webinar] OSHA’s 2020 in Review and 2021 Forecast

On Thursday, January 14th at 1:00 PM ET, plan to join the Partners in Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA • Workplace Safety Practice Group for a webinar regarding Annual OSHA Update: 2020 In-Review and 2021 Forecast.

The ball has dropped, the confetti has been swept out of Times Square, and 2020 is in the books. It’s time to look back and take stock of what we learned from and about OSHA over the past year. More importantly, it is time to look ahead and assess what to expect from OSHA during the new year, and the start of a new Presidential term (either the 2nd Term of President Trump or new Administration under former Vice President Joe Biden). In this webinar, the Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice Group will review OSHA enforcement, rulemaking, and leadership developments from 2020, and will discuss the top OSHA issues employers should monitor and prepare for in the New Year.

Participants in this webinar will learn the following: Continue reading

Announcing Conn Maciel Carey’s 2021 OSHA Webinar Series

ANNOUNCING CONN MACIEL CAREY’S
2021 OSHA WEBINAR SERIES

As the Trump Administration hands over the keys to President-Elect Biden and a new Democratic Administration, OSHA’s enforcement and regulatory landscape is set to change in dramatic ways, from shifting enforcement priorities, budgets and policies, to efforts to reignite OSHA’s rulemaking apparatus. Following an Administration that never installed an Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, handled COVID-19 enforcement with a light touch, pumped the brakes on almost all rulemaking in general, and declined to issue an emergency COVID-19 standard in particular, the pendulum swing at OSHA is likely to be more pronounced than during past transitions. Accordingly, it is more important now than ever before to pay attention to OSHA developments.

Conn Maciel Carey’s complimentary 2021 OSHA Webinar Series, which includes (at least) monthly programs put on by OSHA-specialist attorneys in the firm’s national OSHA Practice, is designed to give employers insight into developments at OSHA during this period of flux and unpredictability.

To register for an individual webinar in the series, click on the link in the program description below. To register for the entire 2021 series, click here to send us an email request, and we will register you.  If you missed any of our programs from the past seven years of our annual OSHA Webinar Series, click here to subscribe to our YouTube channel to access those webinars.


2021 OSHA Webinar Series – Program Schedule

OSHA’s 2020 in Review
and 2021
Forecast

Thursday, January 14th

Respiratory Protection Rules –
Top 5 Risks and Mistakes

Wednesday, May 12th

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19
Emergency Temporary Standard

Tuesday, January 26th

What to Expect from DOL Under
a Biden Administration

Wednesday, June 16th

What Employers Need to Know
About the COVID-19 Vaccine

Thursday, February 11th

Mid-Year Review of OSHA Developments

Thursday, July 22nd

COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution and Administration: OSHA Considerations

Thursday, February 18th

OSHA VPP and other Cooperative Programs

Tuesday, August 24th

Update About the
Chemical Safety Board

Tuesday, March 16th

Update about OSHA’s Electronic Recordkeeping Rule

Wednesday, September 8th

Annual Cal/OSHA Enforcement
and Regulatory Update

Tuesday, March 23rd

OSHA Issues During
Acquisitions and Divestitures

Thursday, October 7th

COVID-19 OSHA Enforcement
and Regulatory Update

Wednesday, April 20th

Updates about OSHA’s PSM
Standard EPA’s RMP Rule

Tuesday, November 16th

Recap of Year One of the Biden Administration

Tuesday, December 14th

See below for the full schedule with program descriptions,
dates, times and links to register for each webinar event.

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

[Bonus Webinar] Conversation with the Director of NIOSH about COVID-19 in the Workplace

On Monday, December 21, 2020 at 1 p.m. ET, join Kate McMahon, a Partner in Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice, and special guest Dr. John Howard, the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), for a one-on-one Q&A event regarding COVID-19 in the workplace.

Cases continue to spike throughout the United States, while employers try to keep pace with ever-shifting guidance from the CDC, OSHA, and state and county health departments, and face several new COVID-19 emergency regulations around the country. NIOSH works closely with the CDC to develop its COVID-19 guidance and to help educate Industry on effective infection control and response strategies. NIOSH also provides support to the White House Coronavirus Taskforce and assists states and local health departments develop effect strategies and policy to address COVID-19 in the workplace.

Through this Q&A session, Dr. John Howard, the Director of NIOSH for 17 years and counting, provides detailed insight and advice on the workplace safety and health implications of COVID-19 and what employers can expect next and how they can protect their workers from this pandemic. Participants in this webinar will learn: Continue reading

[Webinar Recording] 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”). 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 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

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

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oregon to Issue COVID-19 Temporary Standard in Early November (Compliance Deadlines in Early December)

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Friday, October 23, 2020, Oregon OSHA released the latest version of its proposed COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (the “OR ETS”).  Already delayed several times, it now appears that the OR ETS will go into effect the week of November 2nd, and include 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 October 23rd draft 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.

Employers seeking to have input in the final rule have little time as Oregon OSHA presently plans to only accept written comments through Friday, October 30.  Depending on how extensive the feedback is submitted, Oregon OSHA will finalize the rule and adjust the various effective dates included in it depending upon its adoption date.

About 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 plans to develop and release materials to support work on the risk assessment, the written exposure control plan, and the training activities required in the rule.  The agency is also still revising an OSHA Hazards Poster that employers will be required to post in the workplace.

For the majority of employers, the OR ETS will require them to take steps and adopt measures that are similar, if not identical, to those we discussed in our blog posts regarding Virginia OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS and Michigan OSHA’s new COVID-19 emergency rules.  At its core, the emergency standard will require employers to develop and implement:

  1. COVID-19 Exposure Risk Assessments
  2. A Written COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan
  3. COVID-19 and Exposure Control Training
  4. Specific Engineering and Administrative Controls

We detail those 4 core requirements below. Continue reading