November 28, 2021

Volume XI, Number 332


New OSHA Guidance for Recording COVID-19 Cases at Work

On May 19, 2020, OSHA issued revised guidance for recording cases of COVID-19. Under OSHA’s earlier April guidance, most employers effectively were not required to record cases of COVID-19. The new guidance, effective May 26, 2020, modifies the recordkeeping rule to require employers to track COVID-19 cases, if:

  1. The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19, as defined by the CDC;

  2. The case is work-related as defined by 29 CFR § 1904.5; and

  3. The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth in 29 CFR § 1904.7.

OSHA has provided more specific guidance for determining whether or not a COVID-19 case is “work related.”

The reasonableness of the employer's investigation into work-relatedness.

Employers, especially small employers, should not be expected to undertake extensive medical inquiries, given employee privacy concerns and most employers' lack of expertise in this area. It is sufficient in most circumstances for the employer, when it learns of an employee's COVID-19 illness, (1) to ask the employee how he believes he contracted the COVID-19 illness; (2) while respecting employee privacy, discuss with the employee his work and out-of-work activities that may have led to the COVID-19 illness; and (3) review the employee's work environment for potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure. The review in (3) should be informed by any other instances of workers in that environment contracting COVID-19 illness.

The evidence available to the employer.

The evidence that a COVID-19 illness was work-related should be considered based on the information reasonably available to the employer at the time it made its work-relatedness determination. If the employer later learns more information related to an employee's COVID-19 illness, then that information should be taken into account as well in determining whether an employer made a reasonable work-relatedness determination.

The evidence that a COVID-19 illness was contracted at work.

Compliance Safety and Health Officers should take into account all reasonably available evidence, in the manner described above, to determine whether an employer has complied with its recording obligation. This cannot be reduced to a ready formula, but certain types of evidence may weigh in favor of or against work-relatedness.

For instance:

  1. COVID-19 illnesses are likely work-related when several cases develop among workers who work closely together and there is no alternative explanation.

  2. An employee's COVID-19 illness is likely work-related if it is contracted shortly after lengthy, close exposure to a particular customer or coworker who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 and there is no alternative explanation.

  3. An employee's COVID-19 illness is likely work-related if his job duties include having frequent, close exposure to the general public in a locality with ongoing community transmission and there is no alternative explanation.

  4. An employee's COVID-19 illness is likely not work-related if she is the only worker to contract COVID-19 in her vicinity and her job duties do not include having frequent contact with the general public, regardless of the rate of community spread.

  5. An employee's COVID-19 illness is likely not work-related if he, outside the workplace, closely and frequently associates with someone (e.g., a family member, significant other, or close friend) who (1) has COVID-19; (2) is not a coworker, and (3) exposes the employee during the period in which the individual is likely infectious.

  6. CSHOs should give due weight to any evidence of causation, pertaining to the employee illness, at issue provided by medical providers, public health authorities, or the employee herself.

  7. If, after the reasonable and good faith inquiry described above, the employer cannot determine whether it is more likely than not that exposure in the workplace played a causal role with respect to a particular case of COVID-19, the employer does not need to record that COVID-19 illness. In all events, it is important as a matter of worker health and safety, as well as public health, for an employer to examine COVID-19 cases among workers and respond appropriately to protect workers, regardless of whether a case is ultimately determined to be work-related.

Employers can review OSHA’s full updated guidance here.

Copyright © 2021 Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 142

About this Author

Frederick Rom Litigation Attorney Womble Bond Dickinson Law Firm Raleigh

Fred is the complete product liability and catastrophic event defense litigator and counselor. He has served as national counsel for clients and defense liaison counsel in federal multidistrict litigation, and has successfully tried significant exposure cases (including wrongful death, quadriplegia and amputation) in various jurisdictions.

With a unique depth and breadth of experience based on more than 35 years representing clients across the nation in diverse industries in litigation, Fred has acquired a multi-angle view of the litigation...

Mason E. Freeman Trial Attorney Womble Bond Dickinson Raleigh, NC

Mason is a trial lawyer who regularly defends real estate developers and contractors against claims resulting from construction design issues, defects, fires, workplace injuries or fatalities, and OSHA citations. He also works with clients “on the ground” in the aftermath of catastrophic events, including explosions, fires, injuries, and customer data loss. Mason frequently advises clients on OSHA compliance and other workplace safety issues. 

Mason also represents national manufacturers in product liability litigation across the country in the tobacco and natural gas industries,...

Alexander J. Buckley Product Liability Womble Bond Dickinson Raleigh, NC

Alex is a member of Womble Bond Dickinson’s Mass Torts Product Liability team and has years of cutting-edge litigation experience. He brings a skill set and background focused on client service, as well as short and long-term business goals.

Alex assists our manufacturing, construction and products clients with all challenges of complex litigation such as mediation, research and briefing, expert witness identification and work-up, case assessment and strategy.  Alex digs in on all of his cases, many involving high stake property damages, wrongful death and personal injury claims....