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Ignore COVID Safety Rules at Company’s Peril

Snub your nose at federal COVID-19 safety guidelines for the workplace and your company could face serious trouble from the government's health and safety regulators.

A national insurance company faces a $23,406 penalty after one of its employees died from coronavirus. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, found the Colorado company ignored pandemic safety regulations and “needlessly exposed” employees to co-workers with COVID-19 symptoms.

OSHA received a complaint about unsafe working conditions and the employee death and according to OSHA Denver Area Director Amanda Kupper, “This company showed an indifference toward the safety and well-being of its employees, including one who fell victim to the coronavirus.”

To date, OSHA has issued about 650 COVID-related citations totaling more than $4 million in penalties as of Oct. 1.

In addition to OSHA fines, there were 3,784 COVID-19-related lawsuits filed against employers between Mar. 12, 2020, and Oct. 1, 2021, including 356 class actions. Florida, Ohio, New Jersey, California, and New York are the states with the most lawsuits.

A Multilayered Approach to Workplace Safety

According to OSHA, COVID-19 spreads mainly among unvaccinated people in close proximity to others, especially inside places that are not well-ventilated.

“Vaccination is the key element in a multilayered approach to protect workers,” OSHA states. “Multilayered controls tailored to your workplace are especially important for those workers who are unvaccinated or otherwise at risk.”

Flexible scheduling, telework options, vaccinations, proper ventilation and face coverings, along with physical distancing and enhanced cleaning protocols, should all be part of a COVID-19 multilayered prevention program.

OSHA issued a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) over the summer that applies to the health care industry. It also provided recommendations for other employers on how to protect workers. In addition, it added the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's testing and masking recommendations in August for fully vaccinated people.

The courts have put a stay on President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate requiring vaccination or regular testing for all businesses with more than 100 employees. Whether the mandate goes through is yet to be determined. Still, employers should be prepared should the mandate move forward.

Employers who encourage or even incentivize vaccinations may be in a better position if and when the rule goes into effect.

Know Your State and Local Workplace Safety Requirements

Some 14 states so far have adopted comprehensive COVID-19 workplace safety protocols. For example, California includes requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. In addition, Virginia added an infectious disease preparedness and response plan with training requirements that just went into effect.

Employers should check their local requirements regularly.

The CDC Continued Guidance

There are specific guidelines the CDC continues to recommend:

  • Wear a mask in public indoor spaces in areas of substantial or high transmission. Do this regardless of your level of vaccination, especially around those who are at-risk.
  • Get tested every 3-5 days following exposure to someone suspected of or confirmed to have COVID-19. Wear a mask indoors for 14 days after exposure until getting a negative test result.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.