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As temperatures begin to drop with the arrival of the fall season, certain areas of the U.S. are beginning to see a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases. With infection rates trending back upward, it’s important for employers to understand what their responsibilities are to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in terms of reporting requirements specific to COVID-19 cases affecting their employees.

In addition to a published list of answers to COVID-19 frequently asked questions, OSHA has provided further clarity on when employers must report employee illness or fatality as a result of COVID-19.

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • How to determine whether a COVID-19 infection is work-related
  • When employers are required to report cases related to COVID-19

Determining Work-Related Illness

Under OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements, COVID-19 is considered a recordable illness that requires employers to keep records of their employees’ confirmed infections. Employers are only responsible for recording an employee infection if:

  1. The employee has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19
  2. The case is work-related, meaning that an infected individual was exposed to the virus in their work environment
  3. The case involves at least one of the following criteria: death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness

Given the highly infectious nature of the virus and its ubiquitous spread across the globe, determining the source of an employee’s infection can often be difficult. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, employers are not expected to undertake extensive measures to determine the exact point of viral exposure. In most cases, it is enough for employers to ask their infected employee how they believe they contracted the virus by discussing their activities within and outside of work, along with a review of their employee’s work environment for potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure.

All available evidence pointing a viral contraction within the workplace should be taken into account. Such evidence could include a cluster of confirmed cases within a group of employees that frequently work closely together, a confirmed case after recent exposure to another infected employee or customer, or an employee’s frequent exposure to the general public. Cases are less likely to be work related if an infected employee has had recent close contact with an infected person that is not a coworker.

If, after reviewing the evidence and discussing the case with the employee, you have determined that viral exposure is likely to have originated outside of your work environment, it is not necessary to record the instance of infection. However, it is important to note that if an employer later learns more pertinent information concerning the case, that new information should be factored into the determination of whether a case was, indeed, work related.

Reporting Requirements

While employers must record all work-related infections, you are only required to report work-related COVID-19 illnesses that result in an employee’s in-patient hospitalization or fatality. Specifically, OSHA requires employers to report hospitalizations of employees who have been admitted for in-patient treatment within 24 hours of exposure to the COVID-19 virus in their workplace. The report itself must be submitted within the 24 hour window during which the employer learned of their employee’s hospitalization. Note that hospitalization for diagnostic testing or observation is not considered in-patient treatment.

Reports of employee fatalities as a result of work-related exposure must be submitted within 8 hours of the employer learning of the fatality. Any fatality that occurs within 30 days of a work-related exposure to COVID-19 must also be reported. Exceptions to this rule include fatalities that occur on commercial or public transportation, or as a result of a motor vehicle accident on a public road.

Key Takeaways

While determining the origin of an employee’s infection, hospitalization, or death as related to COVID-19 can be difficult, OSHA’s clarifications aim to provide employers with better guidelines. As we continue to wade through the onslaught of obstacles and challenges presented to Human Resources by COVID-19, keep the following in mind:

  • Employers must record a COVID-19 case if the employee presents a positive COVID-19 test, experiences one of the criteria outlined in this post, and there is evidence to conclude that the infected employee was exposed within the workplace.
  • Employers should take reasonable steps to gather evidence and discover whether an infected employee was exposed within the workplace. Such evidence could include multiple and closely occurring positive tests of employees or an employee’s frequent exposure to the general public.
  • OSHA requires employers to report both in-patient hospitalizations for treatment of COVID-19, and fatalities that may have occurred as a result of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
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