There are myriad workplace safety and health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, but one OSHA regulatory obligation about which we have received countless questions the past three months is the requirement to record on an OSHA 300 Log and/or pick up the phone and report to OSHA work-related cases of COVID-19. This article explains the circumstances the OSHA recordkeeping and reporting obligations related to employee COVID-19 cases.
The Cold and Flu Exemption to OSHA Recordkeeping
By regulation, the common cold and flu are exempt from OSHA’s recordkeeping and reporting requirements (29 CFR Part 1904.5(b)(2)(viii)):
“An injury or illness occurring in the work environment that falls under one of the following exceptions is not work-related, and therefore is not recordable…. The illness is the common cold or flu.”
The rationale for the exemption is that the spread of the cold and flu is so pervasive and potential exposures are ubiquitous within and outside the workplace, so it can be nearly impossible to identify the specific source of infection.
Despite great personal sacrifice around the country in the form of mass self-quarantine, the scale of infection of COVID-19 continues to spread like the flu and common cold, with even more dire consequences. Nevertheless, OSHA has repeatedly made clear that COVID-19 is not subject to the cold/flu recordkeeping exemption:
“While 29 CFR 1904.5(b)(2)(viii) exempts recording of the common cold and flu, COVID-19 is a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job.”
OSHA has explained that the cold and flu recordkeeping exemption is not just an OSHA policy or enforcement philosophy. Rather, it is a part of the regulation itself that went through APA notice-and-comment rulemaking. And the scientific reality is, COVID-19 is not the cold or flu. It is a different virus. So without another rulemaking (that history suggests would take longer than it will to eradicate this illness), OSHA cannot just declare this serious illness to be exempt from recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
Indeed, over a series of guidance documents in April and May, OSHA has doubled-down on its decision that employers must spend time determining whether cases of COVID-19 are more likely than not work-related.
Determine Recordability of COVID-19 Cases
Consistent across all of OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance has been the basic structure for evaluating whether an employee’s COVID-19 case is recordable. Employers will only be responsible for recording a case of COVID-19 if it meets the following criteria: Continue reading