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

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

COVID-19 OSHA Recordkeeping and Reporting: OSHA Reverses Course on Work-Relatedness

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

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