IN LATE MAY Fed-OSHA issued new guidance asking employers to investigate COVID-19 cases among their workers and report cases the employer deems were contracted in the workplace.

The guidance recommends employers investigate the genesis of all COVID-19 cases among employees.

Under the guidance, employers must “make reasonable efforts” to investigate confirmed cases in the workplace.

OSHA said it does not expect employers, especially small employers, to undertake extensive medical inquiries, given employee privacy concerns and most employers’ lack of expertise in this area. OSHA said it would usually be sufficient to follow the probe parameters below.

INVESTIGATING A COVID-19 CASE

  • Ask the employee how they believe they contracted the COVID-19 illness.
  • While respecting employee privacy, discuss with them their work and out-of-work activities that may have led to the illness.
  • Review the employee’s work environment for potential COVID-19 exposure.

OSHA also recommends tracing the infected employeess workplace contacts and testing those employees for coronavirus.

Recording claims: Only COVID-19 cases that were determined to have come from the workplace and required hospitalization or days away from work need to be recorded, according to the guidance.

It also states that if multiple employees in a particular business unit test positive, the assumption is that these coronavirus cases are work-related.

The takeaway

The new guidance is a lot to swallow, particularly as many employers do not have the expertise to conduct illness investigations.

OSHA stresses that it doesn’t expect perfection, but that it does expect employers with more than 10 employees to conduct investigations as prescribed above, particularly interviewing the employee and investigating if others who work with them also contracted COVID-19.

Given the nature of the disease and the ubiquity of community spread, however, in many instances it will be difficult to determine whether a COVID-19 illness is work-related, especially when an employee has potentially been exposed both in and outside the workplace.

There may also be a limit to the claim period. Waiting periods are listed on the policy.

IT’S LIKELY WORK-RELATED …
When several cases develop among workers who work closely together.

  • If it is contracted shortly after lengthy, close exposure to a particular customer or co-worker who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • If a worker has frequent and close exposure to the general public in a locality with ongoing community transmission.

IT’S LIKELY NOT IF …

  • The individual is the only worker to contract COVID-19 in their vicinity and their job duties do not include having frequent contact with the general public.
  • They closely associate with someone outside work who has COVID-19.

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