On March 11, 2020, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)
for employers preparing for COVID-19 in the workplace. After briefly
summarizing the symptoms of COVID-19 (mild to severe fever, cough and
shortness of breath) and transmission methods (primarily understood to
include person-to-person contact and respiratory droplets produced when an
infected person coughs or sneezes), the guidance provides a number of
recommendations for reducing coronavirus exposure in the workplace. The
recommendations are as follows.
- Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan.
Based on the level of risk associated with an employer’s workplace,
individual employees and the local community, employers should create a
plan that addresses COVID-19 contingencies. The plan should include how the
employer will handle the need for workers to be absent and/or work
remotely. The response plan should also consider whether and to what extent
the employer should alter its operation levels in light of anticipated
supply and demand changes. OSHA notes that consumer demand for products and
services associated with infection prevention will increase, while demand
for other products and services will probably decrease.
- Implement Basic Prevention Measures. OSHA re-emphasizes
the need for employers to implement and encourage best practices for
minimizing the spread of COVID-19:
- Provide hand washing areas, tissues and trash cans for employees,
customers and the public.
- Encourage sick employees to stay home.
- Minimize non-essential travel.
- Minimize contact between employees, clients and customers where possible
(e.g., by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual ones and installing
drive-through windows for customer service where appropriate).
- Discourage employees from sharing phones, desks and other equipment where
- Consider alternatives such as flexible work hours, staggered shifts and
telecommuting to increase distance between employees and reduce the number
of employees physically present at one time.
- Identify and Isolate Sick Individuals. Employees should
self-monitor for symptoms and should know when and to whom they should
report if they do get sick. Those who are potentially infectious should be
sent home or otherwise physically moved away from other employees,
customers and visitors.
- Develop, Implement and Communicate About Workplace Flexibilities and
OSHA emphasized that employers must be flexible and non-punitive with their
leave policies to ensure that sick employees do not feel like they must
come to work, and that other employees have the flexibility they need to
care for sick family members. Employers should not require doctors’ notes
for employees who have respiratory illnesses, because medical facilities
may be overloaded and not able to provide paperwork in a timely fashion.
Each employer should also provide guidance and training to all employees to
make sure they are aware of the employer’s policies and plans related to
COVID-19, as well as the availability of medical screening and other
employee health resources.
- Implement Workplace Controls. OSHA identifies three
categories of workplace controls that employers should be considering and
implementing: engineering controls, administrative controls and personal
protective equipment (PPE). Engineering controls are measures that do not
rely on employee behavior, such as high-efficiency air filters.
Administrative controls include all of the policy measures described above.
Although engineering and administrative controls are preferred, OSHA
recognizes that, depending on the workplace, some employers may also need
to provide protective equipment. Employers must evaluate the hazards
specific to their workplaces in selecting PPE, and should make sure
employees know how to properly fit, wear, use, remove and clean it. OSHA
notes that employees who are required to work with known or suspected
COVID-19 patients must have respirators, and other protective equipment may
also be necessary. Although there are no OSHA standards specific to
COVID-19, existing safety standards may apply depending on the nature of
the employer’s workplace, such as OSHA’s PPE standards and its blood-borne
The guidance then states that workplace risk of occupational exposure to
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can vary from “lower (caution)”
to “very high.” Most workplaces will be in the lower- or medium-risk
categories, which include work environments that do not require direct
contact with individuals known or suspected to have COVID-19. For these
categories of jobs, the OSHA guidance reiterates the importance of
engineering and administrative controls such as those described above.
Throughout the guidance, OSHA emphasizes the importance of staying up to
date on other governmental guidance and best practices, such as the latest
guidance issued by the Center for Disease Control
provides links to a number of OSHA standards and other resources.
For more questions or additional guidance on how these new recommendations
and other COVID-19 considerations may impact a particular workforce,
employers can contact any of the McGuireWoods COVID-19 Response Team members.