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

Fed OSHA and State OSH Plans Address Ventilation to Reduce the Workplace Spread of COVID-19

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

While each week seems to bring news of new COVID-19 rules imposed by a state, county or city, federal OSHA continues to offer guidance of which employers should take notice.  Earlier this month, on November 5th, OSHA issued a new publication focused on ways employers can use ventilation to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 virus droplets through the air in their workplaces.

“Ensuring adequate ventilation throughout the work environment can help to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.”

The guidance provides a window into the types of questions OSHA may ask during future COVID-related inspections, and could be referenced as support for General Duty Clause violations.  Employees, as well as lawyers representing individuals bringing wrongful death actions on behalf of deceased employees, may also question why an employer opted not to evaluate ventilation systems and take some or all of the steps recommended by OSHA.

We had been bracing for guidance or regulatory requirements related to ventilation, with concerns that it would require capital projects to overhaul existing HVAC systems.  But fortunately, this guidance does not go that far, and in fact, most of the recommended steps are not particularly burdensome.  For example, OSHA suggests working with a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) specialist to ensure the employer’s HVAC systems are fully functional.  OSHA also recommends that employers open windows or provide other sources of fresh air wherever possible, and leave restroom exhaust fans on continuously while operating at maximum capacity — steps that can be achieved without infrastructure changes to the workplace.

More burdensome than leaving a bathroom fan running or a window open, however, OSHA also advises installing air filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of 13 or higher, where feasible (i.e., where the system can handle it), and using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to increase clean air, especially in higher-risk areas.

When working with an HVAC specialist, the guidance recommends that employers also should confirm that 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 Recording] Michigan OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Rule

On October 29, 2020, Eric J. Conn, Aaron R. Gelb and Ashley D. Mitchell presented a bonus webinar event: Michigan OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Rule.

When the MI Supreme Court struck down Gov. Whitmer’s COVID-19 Executive Orders, MI OSHA responded quickly to fill the void, and last week issued a series of COVID-19 Emergency Regulations. 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 regulations. While many of the requirements set forth in the new rules mirror the Governor’s prior EOs, having a prescriptive rule in place makes it that much easier for MI OSHA to issue citations to employers.

Given MI OSHA’s aggressive use of the General Duty Clause to support a series of citations after an inspection blitz over the summer, Michigan employers should expect enforcement to continue in a similar manner, making compliance with these rules all the more important.  Participants in this webinar learned about the requirements of MIOSHA’s COVID-19 emergency rules and steps to take to avoid citations, including:

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

Coalition to Comment on Cal/OSHA’s Emergency COVID-19 Rulemaking

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On September 17, 2020, the Standards Board voted to grant a Petition filed by the worker advocacy group WorkSafe to promulgate a general industry emergency COVID-19 regulation.  This emergency temporary standard will almost certainly be followed by the development of a permanent infectious disease standard.  The intent of the rulemaking is to set specific, enforceable requirements and prohibitions for California employers, whose employees may be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, but who are not covered by Cal/OSHA’s existing Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard (generally applicable to healthcare operations).

Serious Concerns About the Likely Proposed Emergency Regulation

Although Cal/OSHA has not yet published a proposed standard, the WorkSafe petition included a proposed rule that sets specific requirements for identifying and evaluating COVID-19 workplace hazards, responding to COVID-19 exposures, and conducting employee training, among numerous other requirements.  The scuttlebutt we are hearing suggests the Standards Board is likely to follow the WorkSafe’s proposed model for both this emergency rule and a follow-up permanent infectious disease standard.

Regardless of the approach the Standards Board follows, it will be imperative for the employer community to have its voice heard in the rulemaking process, with a set of robust comments and other advocacy.  But if the agency does try to run with a proposal like the one WorkSafe designed, we have already identified numerous potential concerns for employers, including: 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

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

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

[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

Virginia OSHA Moves to Make Permanent Its New Infectious Disease Standard

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we have been updating you about here, on July 27th, the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSH) adopted a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS).  There are some important deadlines fast approaching under that new rule:

  1. Conduct a COVID-19 Hazard Assessment to categorize the risk exposures at the workplace (due by Aug. 26th);
  2. Deliver the first of two COVID-19 employee training events (due by Aug. 26th); and
  3. Implement a written infectious disease preparedness and response plan (due by Sept. 25th).

We have been helping our clients quickly get up to speed on the new emergency rule.  As part of that effort, we co-hosted a webinar with the head of VOSH’s Consultation Program and also prepared an FAQ document about the new rule.

But while everyone is scrambling to come into compliance with the emergency rule, we want to highlight another big development with the Virginia rule that has a fast-approaching deadline – that is, VOSH’s effort to prepare a permanent infectious disease standard.

The ETS is, of course, just a temporary standard, but by regulation, VOSH is required to commence a rulemaking to promulgate a permanent standard soon after issuing an ETS.  By publication of the ETS in July, VOSH simultaneously gave notice that the Standards Board intends to adopt a permanent infectious disease standard, and the ETS serves as the proposed rule.  Here is a link to the Proposed Permanent Standard for Infectious Disease Prevention.  The agency intends to finalize the permanent rule within six months, with an effective date no later than January 27, 2021.

Continue reading

FAQs About Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard

On August 3rd, Eric J. Conn (Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice), Susan Wilcox (a CIH and CSP with Virginia-based Safety Resource Associates), and special guest Jennifer Rose (Director of Cooperative Programs at VOSH) presented a webinar: “Everything You Need to Know About Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard.VOSH FAQs

During the webinar, we collected numerous questions from participants about VOSH’s new COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard.  We have compiled all of those questions from the webinar into this written Q&A document with our answers and useful links throughout.  These FAQs have also been incorporated into our broader compendium of COVID-19 FAQs on Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force Resource Page.

We are also pleased to share these links to a copy of the slides and a recording of the webinar, as well as our article here on the OSHA Defense Report blog about the lay of the land around VOSH’s new rule.  And below is a brief recap of the program.

Last month, 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: Continue reading

Coalition for Uniformity in COVID-19 Recordkeeping Advocates for Cal/OSHA to Realign its Requirements

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we previously reported, in late May, Cal/OSHA issued a new set of COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Reporting FAQs that represented a serious departure from federal OSHA’s guidance on that same subject.  Throughout the pandemic, federal OSHA has maintained that employers need only record and report COVID-19 cases that are:

  1. Confirmed by a positive laboratory test of a respiratory specimen; and
  2. “More likely than not” the result of a workplace exposure, based on reasonably available evidence, and the absence of any alternative (non-work) explanation for the employee’s illness.

Cal/OSHA’s May 27th guidance, however, breaks from both of those key requirements for COVID-19 recordkeeping, rejecting the need for a confirmed case and flipping the burden of establishing work-relatedness on its head, Cal-OSHA RK FAQSestablishing instead a presumption of work-related 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 illnesses being recorded on 300 Logs only in California that were not actually COVID-19 cases, and/or that were not caused by exposures in the workplace, Cal/OSHA’s unique COVID-19 recording criteria are not permitted by law.

More COVID-19 cases on your logs can create significant risk of liability.  For example, there is no doubt an avalanche of wrongful death and personal injury suits waiting around the corner, and while recording an illness is not an admission of wrong-doing, it is an admission that the illness was likely spread in your workplace.  Plaintiffs’ attorneys will make hay of that to show your exposure control efforts were insufficient, or to show that the illnesses experienced by their clients (customers, contractors, family members of employees, and others whose suits would not be barred by workers’ compensation exclusivity) likely were also contracted in your workplace or because of your workplace.  And of course, more illnesses having to be recorded also creates more potential for Cal/OSHA citations for failure to record or failure to record timely or accurately.

The Coalition for Uniformity in COVID-19 Recordkeeping

Conn Maciel Carey organized and represents the Coalition for Uniformity in COVID-19 Recordkeeping, which is composed of a broad array of California employers impacted by Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 recordkeeping requirements. Continue reading

[Webinar] Everything You Need to Know About Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard

On Monday, August 3rd 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), and special guest Jennifer Rose (VOSH Cooperative Programs Director with the Virginia Dept. of Labor and Industry) for a complimentary webinar regardingEverything You Need to Know About Virginia OSHA’s New COVID-19 Standard.” 

Last week, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to reduce COVID-19 infectionsVOSH Cover Slide 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: Continue reading

Virginia Promulgates the Nation’s First Mandatory COVID-19 Workplace Safety Regulation

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam announced the commonwealth’s adoption of an emergency temporary standard (“ETS”) on infectious disease prevention.  With that, Virginia became the first state in the nation to promulgate a mandatory safety regulation designed to prevent and/or reduce COVID-19 infections in the workplace.  VA EOThe Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted to approve the ETS after Governor Northam directed the creation of enforceable regulations in a May Executive Order (the same EO that mandated the use of masks in public for all Virginians).  Specifically, Governor Northam directed:

“The Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry shall promulgate emergency regulations and standards to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The regulations and standards … shall apply to every employer, employee, and place of employment within the jurisdiction of the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) program.”

Virginia state officials said they were forced to act because federal OSHA had not developed an employer safety standard to protect against infections from the Coronavirus, and thus the burden to do so has been left to the states.

The ETS, which was drafted by Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry, will go into effect after it is published in a newspaper in Richmond, VA, which is expected to occur the week of July 27th.  The rule will remain in effect as an ETS for at least six months, but can be made permanent through the Virginia OSHA (VOSH) formal rulemaking process defined by state law.  Although the Final Rule has not been published, the rulemaking process has been somewhat public, with early drafts of the rule discussed and debated in public meetings, and what appears to be the final rule published today.

While some requirements apply to all employers of any size and in any industry, the Rule requires employers to conduct a risk assessment to identify potential exposures to COVID-19 in the workplace, and to categorize employees’ job tasks as “very high,” “high,” “medium,” or “lower” (as defined in the Rule).  The hazard assessment has to be verified by a written certification that identifies the workplace evaluated, the person certifying that the evaluated was completed, the dates of the assessment, and the document as a certification.

Each category has a separate list of precautions employers are required to take Continue reading

OSHA Releases COVID-19 Guidance for the Oil and Gas Industry

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Continuing its effort to issue numerous industry-specific COVID-19 guidance documents, last week OSHA released guidance for the Oil and Gas Industry to help employers manage the COVID-19 hazard in oil and gas workplaces.  Picture1The  new guidance builds on existing CDC and/or OSHA guidance that we have seen for all employers or from other industry-specific guidance, and adds in a few oil and gas specific recommendations.

To start, OSHA makes clear that the guidance is geared towards oil and gas industry workers and employers, including those in sub-industries and tasks that make up the broader oil and gas sector.  In that regard, OSHA provides a table that describes oil and gas work tasks associated with the exposure risk levels in OSHA’s occupational exposure risk pyramid, which divides tasks into four risk exposure categories – very high, high, medium, and lower (caution).  Specifically, OSHA groups most oil and gas work tasks in the lower (caution) and medium exposure risk levels.

For the medium exposure risk level category, OSHA includes:

  1. oil and gas drilling, servicing, production, distribution, and/or processing tasks that require frequent close contact (within 6 feet) with coworkers, contractors, customers, or the general public; and
  2. traveling within facilities or between facilities when workers must share vehicles.

For the first group of tasks, OSHA notes that control rooms, trailers and doghouses are frequent high-traffic areas.  The Agency also includes a general note that working and living together in close quarters where social distancing is not always feasible may increase exposure risk compared to other activities in the medium exposure risk category. Continue reading

California Governor Deploys COVID-19 “Strike Force” Over Holiday Weekend to Enforce Workplace Restrictions

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force 

California increased its efforts to combat COVID-19 over the July 4th holiday weekend by deploying multi-agency strike teams to visit or otherwise make contact with businesses to evaluate and enforce compliance with and/or educate them about the State’s numerous COVID-19 orders, directives, and guidance.

The “Strike Force” includes representatives from at least ten different state agencies.  Approximately 100 agents are from the Alcohol Beverage Control agency and the rest from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), the California Highway Patrol, the Board of Barbering & Cosmetology, Consumer Affairs, Food and Agriculture, Labor Commissioner’s Office, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, and other state licensing entities.

Ahead of the July 4th holiday, Governor Newsom ordered bars, indoor restaurants, movie theaters and more to close in a number of counties on a state watch list.  The state monitoring list is ever changing and represents counties with a need for more support and/or enforcement.

Over the holiday, hundreds of state inspectors fanned out across California to enforce health orders related to Coronavirus.

The State’s actions are likely authorized by Executive Order N-33-20, which generally directs all residents immediately to heed current State public health directives to stay home, Calif EOexcept as needed to maintain continuity of operations of essential critical infrastructure sectors and additional sectors as the State Public Health Officer “may designate” as critical to protect health and well-being of all Californians.  As for the crackdown, the actions taken are likely be based on recent Continue reading

Oregon OSHA Initiates Rulemaking for Emergency Temporary COVID-19 Standards

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On June 26, 2020, Oregon OSHA announced that in consultation with the Oregon Health Authority (OHA)/Public Health and other technical advisors, as well as affected stakeholders, it had begun to develop a pair of temporary COVID-19 workplace rules — one for healthcare and closely-related industries, and another for general workplaces.  Picture1The target effective date for those temporary rules is September 1, 2020, with the rules to remain in effect through at least February 2021. In parallel, Oregon will also begin work on permanent rules addressing airborne infectious disease control through the state’s normal rulemaking process.

The technical advisory group meetings and external stakeholder meetings are already taking place and are expected to be completed over the next two weeks.

Even though the emergency temporary standards will not go through the typical, more formal rulemaking process, there are still opportunities for employers to influence:

  • the scope of the rules;
  • the substantive requirements of the rules; and/or
  • how their workplaces will be characterized (i.e., as healthcare or general industry).

Participation in the stakeholder meetings and the submission of comments could make

a significant impact on the nature of the burdens placed on Oregon employers through the remainder of the pandemic.

Continue reading

OSHA Issues COVID-19 FAQs about Respirators, Face Masks, and Face Coverings

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As COVID Spring transitions to COVID Summer, wearing some form of face covering has become the new norm, especially in workplaces all across the country.  Many employers operating essential businesses, as well as non-essential business that have begun to reopen, have sought to provide or require some form of respirator, face mask, or face covering for employees.  Given OSHA’s particular emphasis on respiratory protection throughout the pandemic and for the foreseeable future, it is important for employers to be aware of the OSHA guidelines and obligations regarding respirators and face coverings in the workplace.

Depending on the type of face mask used, and whether it is mandated by the employer or merely permitted for voluntary use, there are certain requirements that employers must follow under OSHA’s respiratory protection standard, 29 C.F.R. 1910.134, and perhaps  other regulations.  Last week, OSHA issued a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about face coverings to help employers navigate obligations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.Face Covering FAQs

As a starting point, let’s level-set the type of equipment we are talking about.  N95 masks, although they are called masks and look like masks, are actually considered by OSHA to be respirators.  Of course, anything more substantial than an N95 mask, such as half- or full-face tight-fitting face pieces with a filtering medium, are also considered by OSHA to be respirators.  Use of that type of equipment in the workplace, whether it is required by the employer or permitted for voluntary use, triggers numerous duties under OSHA’s respiratory protection standard that we will discuss below.  On the other hand, simple paper or cloth masks, like dental or surgical masks, are not considered to be respirators, and do not trigger any requirements under 1910.134.

Let’s start this discussion with the more ubiquitous face coverings that are NOT considered to be respirators, and also are not considered to be personal protective equipment (PPE).

Paper or Cloth Face Masks

Setting aside respirators for the moment, if your workplace is permitting or even requiring use of some form of a loose-fitting paper or cloth mask, or even a generic face covering like a bandana or one of the DIY masks that CDC has been promoting for general use by the public, none of those is considered to be a respirator, AND none of those is even considered to be a form of PPE.

As a general rule, Continue reading

Cal/OSHA Establishes a Presumption of Work Relatedness in new COVID-19 Recording and Reporting Guidance

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we previously reported, in early April, the Head of Cal/OSHA, Division Chief Doug Parker, provided feedback about Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Reporting expectations.  The signal to employers back then was that Cal/OSHA would be following Federal OSHA’s guidance on when employers must record COVID-19 cases on their 300 Logs, and that is not very often.

Just last week, however, Cal/OSHA issued a new set of COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Reporting FAQs, indicating that it has changed course from Division Chief Parker’s April letter.  This move comes only a few days after Fed OSHA reversed course with respect to its own COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Reporting guidance.Cal-OSHA RK FAQS

To be clear, while Fed OSHA’s latest COVID-19 Recordkeeping guidance does retreat from some of the early relief OSHA had offered employers, in substance, it merely changes the landscape around the edges — requiring more employers to analyze work-relatedness for COVID-19 cases.  Still fed OSHA only requires recording or reporting COVID-19 cases where it is “more likely than not” that a COVID-19 case resulted from workplace exposure, based on reasonably available evidence, and the absence of any alternative (non-work) explanation for the employee’s illness.

Among other stark differences, Cal/OSHA’s new guidance flips the burden of establishing work-relatedness on its head.  Now, according to Cal/OSHA, a COVID-19 case in California will be presumed to be work-related if any workplace exposure is identified, even if the cause of the illness is more likely attributable to a non-workplace exposure.

Confirmed Case

Unlike Fed OSHA’s previous and current recordkeeping guidance, Cal/OSHA’s FAQs now make clear that Cal/OSHA does NOT require a positive test for COVID-19 to be necessary to trigger recording requirements.  Cal/OSHA states: Continue reading

Conn Maciel Carey’s Multi-Disciplinary COVID-19 Task Force Resources

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As employers around the country grapple with the employment law and workplace safety implications of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“COVID-19”), COVID-19 Task Force PageConn Maciel Carey formed a national, multi-disciplinary legal and regulatory task force dedicated to helping our clients across all industries manage the multitude of pandemic-related issues employers are facing and preparing them for the tidal wave of litigation that is waiting around the corner.

As part of our COVID-19 Task Force, the firm’s dedicated Workplace Safety, Labor and Employment, and Litigation attorneys have produced a comprehensive set of resources to guide employers through this uncharted territory and the unique workplace challenges presented by the presence of a new health hazard in our nation’s workplaces.

We have now pulled those resources together in a single location — Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force Page, where employers can find:

Our COVID-19 Task Force has spent the last few months working with our clients to: Continue reading