Confused by OSHA’s COVID-19 reporting rules?

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You’re not alone. Here’s what you need to know. 

The law firm Baker Hostetler says in a blog post it’s been hearing from employers that they’re confused by OSHA’s reporting guidance on what to do if an employee gets the coronavirus.

Baker Hostetler says OSHA published guidance on its website that appeared to conflict with its own rules and created confusion for employers.

So much confusion resulted that OSHA removed the guidance from its website.

To top that off, OSHA says it’s prioritizing inspections related to COVID-19.

And reports have shown that employees haven’t been shy about reporting their employers to the agency. Some companies have received fines as a result.

What the regs say

Under 29 CFR 1904.5, for a COVID-19 case to qualify as work-related, “an event or exposure in the work environment” must either cause or contribute to the illness.

An employer must classify the case as work-related only if it is more likely than not that workplace exposure played a causal role in the COVID-19 case.

This filter also applies: A case is reportable if the employee is hospitalized within 24 hours of the workplace exposure or dies within 30 days of the workplace exposure (1904.39). And the employer must report the hospitalization or fatality within 24 hours of learning of a reportable hospitalization or within eight hours of learning of a reportable death.

Baker Hostetler gives two examples:

  • An employee tests positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 1, which is also the employee’s last day at work. The employee’s symptoms require hospitalization on Aug. 8. The case is not reportable to OSHA because the hospitalization occurred more than 24 hours after workplace exposure.
  • An employee’s last day at work is Aug. 1 and is admitted to the hospital less than 24 hours later on Aug. 2 with symptoms. A COVID-19 test is taken on Aug. 2, but the positive result is not reported until Aug. 8. The employer determines the COVID-19 hospitalization is work-related under OSHA criteria. The case is reportable because the hospitalization occurred within 24 hours of the last workplace exposure.

What’s the ultimate take-home here? Baker Hostetler says an employer’s reporting requirements are codified in OSHA regulations, NOT in any FAQs posted on the agency’s website. When in doubt, refer to what 1904.5 and 1904.39 say.

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