California Governor Issues COVID-19 Executive Order Extending Deadlines for Cal/OSHA Citations and Appeals

By Fred Walter and Andrew Sommer

With no fanfare, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued the latest in his series of COVID-19-related executive orders on May 7, 2020. Executive Order N-63-20 extends by 60 days the time for Cal/OSHA to issue citations and for employers to file appeals, motions and petitions for reconsideration.

As rationale for extending these statutory, jurisdictional deadlines, Governor Newsom explained:

WHEREAS the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as physical distancing and
other public health measures undertaken in response to it, have affected
governmental agencies, workers, private businesses, and California residents,
with associated impacts on adherence to certain statutory and regulatory
deadlines, as well as to workers’ efforts to vindicate their labor and employment
rights; and

WHEREAS the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as physical distancing and
other public health measures undertaken in response to it, have also had
widespread impacts on state and local governments’ ability to perform certain
functions via in-person interactions, and such functions should be performed via
other means to the extent consistent with public safety and other critical public
interests….

As to the Cal/OSHA related deadlines specifically, the Order states:

“The deadlines specified in or that apply to (Labor Code section 6317, related to the issuance of Cal/OSHA citations, and Labor Code sections 6319, 6600, 6600.5, 6601a and 6601.5) shall be extended for a period of 60 days to the limited extent that at the time to issue a citation or file a complaint, claim, or appeal would otherwise elapse in the 60-day period…” following the effective date of the Order, which was May 7, 2020.

A review of the cited Labor Code sections reveals that this Order extends Cal/OSHA’s time to issue citations and the employer’s time to file appeals, motions and petitions for reconsideration.

Labor Code section 6317 gives Cal/OSHA six months following the occurrence of a violation of a safety order to issue a citation or notice in lieu of citation. The remaining Labor Code sections cited in the Order put employers on notice that they must file an appeal within 15 working days of receipt of a citation or notice. If they do not, their right to do so would be lost.

As with most executive orders, this language is open to interpretation. Cal/OSHA Enforcement reads the Order to mean that Continue reading

Puerto Rico Issues Executive Order Requiring Site-Specific COVID-19 Exposure Control Plans

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On May 1, 2020, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced of Puerto Rico issued a COVID-related Executive Order (“EO 2020-038”), which imposes a number of requirements upon employers, included among them that every employer must develop a comprehensive, site-specific COVID-19 exposure control plan prior to reopening.  The Executive Order also makes clear that employers already open under prior exemptions to prior lockdown orders must also prepare a plan and must do so as soon as possible.

To implement the Executive Order, the Puerto Rico Secretary of Labor issued Circular Letter 2020-03 (“CL 2020-03”), setting forth the elements that must be covered in the plan, including the requirement that the plan be “exclusive to [your] particular workplace.”

There are 22 total elements that must be covered, including the requirements that the plan:

  • Be a written document, specific to the workplace and contemplates the particular tasks, the physical structure and the number of employees.
  • Include recommendations issued by local, national and international health agencies regarding controls to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Detail the monitoring and/or screening process of personnel prior to entering the workplace.
  • Indicate the control measures that will be taken to achieve the physical distance between employees and clients/public.
  • Indicate how adequate ventilation will be provided to ensure adequate air flows and, in locations with air conditioning systems, effective filtering.
  • Include and detail the method that will be implemented for Continue reading

Pres. Trump’s Latest Effort to Limit Federal Agency Guidance – Two New Executive Orders

By Eric J. Conn and Beeta B. Lashkari

Late last year, on October 9, 2019, President Trump issued two Executive Orders (“EOs”) that could have a dramatic impact on the way OSHA and other executive agencies operate:

  1. Executive Order 13891, the Executive Order on Promoting the Rule of Law Through Improved Agency Guidance Documents (Guidance Documents EO); and
  2. Executive Order 13892, the Executive Order on Promoting the Rule of Law Through Transparency and Fairness in Civil Administrative Enforcement and Adjudication (Transparency EO).

These EOs were designed to, according to the President:

“protect Americans from out-of-control bureaucracy and stop regulators from imposing secret rules and hidden penalties on the American people. . .”

In a nutshell, the Guidance Documents EO mandates that the public be provided with an opportunity to comment on proposed guidance and interpretive documents (similar to what is required under the Administrative Procedures Act for rulemaking).  It requires notice and publication of guidance, and the creation of a comprehensive online database where all such guidance must be housed and easily searched.

The Transparency EO focuses on agency enforcement actions.  Most significantly, it requires agencies to provide all parties potentially subject to an enforcement action the opportunity to engage with the agency over the merits of the action prior to commencement of the enforcement action. It also:

  1. prevents agencies from enforcing standards that are not public and that would cause unfair surprise to the regulated entity (i.e., no enforcement relying on guidance documents that are not created and maintained pursuant to the Guidance Documents EO);
  2. requires the publication of any potential new or expanded jurisdiction in the Federal Register;
  3. mandates the development of procedures for encouraging voluntary self-reporting in exchange for penalty reductions; and
  4. requires that agencies adhere to standards in the Paperwork Reduction Act when asking regulated parties for information without a formal subpoena or investigative demand.

The two new Executive Orders align with the President’s business-friendly agenda, making it more difficult for regulators to engage in backdoor rulemaking (i.e., supplementing or changing regulations via the issuance of guidance documents developed without public input), and easier for businesses to keep track of the regulatory requirements with which they must comply, and to head off enforcement actions before they begin.

How will the Executive Orders change the OSH regulatory landscape, and what should employers expect next? Continue reading

OSHA’s old “Standards Improvement Project” and Trump’s new Efforts to Slash Regulations [Webinar Recording]

On March 28, 2017, Eric J. Conn and Dan C. Deacon of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice Group presented a webinar regarding OSHA’s old “Standards Improvement Project” and Pres. Trump’s new Executive Orders to Slash Regulations.

OSHA initiated a “Standards Improvement Project” (SIP) under the Clinton Admin. to make non-controversial changes to confusing, outdated or duplicative OSHA standards.  There have been a series of SIP rulemakings since, culminating in SIP Phase IV, published by Obama’s OSHA late in 2016, which proposes numerous revisions to existing standards, including a change to OSHA’s Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) standard that is hardly non-controversial.  Specifically, OSHA is attempting to use SIP to undo a judicial interpretation of “unexpected energization” that OSHA does not support; reading “unexpected” right out of the standard.

What Trump’s OSHA does with the LOTO proposal specifically is a mystery, but what is more important is Trump’s recent actions to address the “regulatory state,” which appear to put SIP on steroids.  Trump has long stated that over-regulation is hampering America’s economic growth, and plans for decreasing regulations have been a high priority in his 100-day action plan.  Trump and Congressional Republicans have made heavy use of the obscure “Congressional Review Act” to permanently repeal numerous Obama-era regulations.  The President has also signed a “2-for-1” Executive Order that requires federal agencies to cut two existing regulations for every new regulation they implement, and another Executive Order directing federal agencies to create “regulatory reform” Task Forces to evaluate federal rules and recommend whether to keep, repeal or change them.  Trump intends for these task forces to reduce what it deems expensive or unnecessary rules.  OSHA rules may be on the chopping block.

Participants in this webinar learned about:

  • The origins and intent of the Standards Improvement Project
  • A controversial proposal to remove “unexpected energization” from OSHA’s LOTO Standard
  • Use of the Congressional Review Act to repeal numerous Obama-era regulations
  • Pres. Trump’s executive orders designed to slash regulations
  • Other steps by the Trump Admin. to “Dismantle the Regulatory State”

Here is a link to a recording of the webinarContinue reading