Responding to COVID-19 has been exhausting for employers who have been forced to balance the wellbeing of their organization and their employees. On the one hand, shutdowns have caused numerous employers to go out of business and for employees to be left without reliable income. On the other hand, continuing business as usual has led to skyrocketing infection rates, deaths, and legal consequences for disobeying state and local orders. Across the country, employees have been exposed to COVID-19 due to the nature of their jobs and/or the failure of their workplace to implement proper safety protocols. This has led to the filing of over 11,000 federal OSHA complaints and 39,000 sate OSHA complaints by employees. Both the wellbeing of employees and the ability for businesses to survive are at stake. What can be done to improve this situation? For answers, we reference the article “6 Steps Employers Can Take to Diffuse Skyrocketing COVID-19 OSHA Complaints,” by Chantell Foley and Fisher Phillips.
Foley begins by explaining how OSHA responds to COVID-19 complaints. OSHA typically conducts on-site investigations for workplaces with a high risk of exposure, such as hospitals and nursing homes. If a workplace has a low or medium risk of exposure, a Rapid Response Inspection is conducted over the phone or by fax. In a Rapid Response Inspection, OSHA informs employers of the filed complaint and asks for a written response that details COVID safety measures and corrective actions taken to resolve the complaint. Foley recommends that employers respond thoroughly to this request, including photographic evidence of the implementation of preventative and corrective measures to avoid further investigation. Next, six best practices for reducing the risk of COVID-19 exposure and OSHA citations are presented. These practices are listed and discussed below:
- Follow the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines.
These include the Interim Guidance for Businesses, Guidelines for Cleaning and Disinfecting, and the CDC’s Public Health Recommendations for Community Exposure. Following protocol such as social distancing, use of PPE, and sending symptomatic employees home goes a long way to show that your organization takes this public health emergency seriously.
- Only use special guidelines for critical infrastructure workers as a last resort.
The CDC has created more lenient COVID-19 guidelines for critical infrastructure workers, such as allowing asymptomatic employees to continue working after direct exposure to the virus. These guidelines should only be used as a last resort to continue operations that are necessary for public health and safety.
- Refer to OSHA’s current guidelines when creating COVID-19 safety measures.
Although OSHA’s guidelines are non-mandatory, they serve as a model of a proper workplace response to COVID-19. Furthermore, OSHA states that an effort to comply with their guidelines will be taken into strong consideration when deciding whether or not to cite violations during an inspection. The failure to protect employees through the implementation of proper protocol can result in serious legal consequences.
- Discuss COVID-19 issues with employees.
Detail COVID-19 safety measures to all members of the workplace, explaining the importance of following them for everyone’s health and safety. Encourage employees to self-monitor for symptoms and to stay home if sick. Follow up with sick employees to show that you care about their safety and wellbeing.
- Inform employees of potential COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.
Employees deserve to know if they have been exposed to COVID-19 on the job so that they can take action to protect themselves and their loved ones. That said, employers must maintain the confidentiality of a sick employee. Without naming individuals, alert employees of potential exposure and take action to prevent further cases.
- Stay informed with current COVID-19 developments and guidelines.
The global pandemic is a constantly evolving situation, so it is important to keep on top of the latest federal, state, and local orders and recommendations. If possible, designate individuals with the task of researching latest developments and reporting them to management. Remain vigilant even though we have been in this pandemic for months.
This pandemic will eventually be defeated, but until then, employers must work diligently to protect their workforce while continuing business operations.