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Is The OSHA Really Protecting Workers From COVID-19?

 

This post was written at 9:00 a.m. on October 12, 2020.  We believe that it was accurate and up to date as of that time. However, because of the rapid, daily changes in the political, business, and legal climates, we cannot guarantee the post’s currentness. 

Georgia workers are facing new disadvantages when it comes to their safety in the workplace during COVID-19. In light of the most recent federal guidance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has shown unpromising actions on behalf of protecting workers across the country during the pandemic. 

Whether you have been deemed an essential worker since the beginning of the pandemic, or if you have returned to the office after working from home, your employer has a responsibility to ensure a safe work environment for their employees. 

The OSHA issued non-binding guidelines for employers that detail additional safety precautions they should instill based on the level of risk their employees are exposed to. However, it seems the overwhelming majority of employers reported for not following these guidelines were never penalized for their unsafe practices. 

It was reported that a nursing home in Atlanta is only 1 of only some 30 employers across the country that has been issued a citation for unsafe practices that fail to protect employees from contracting COVID-19. More than 10,000 complaints and referrals have been submitted to the OSHA for irresponsible employers putting their workers at risk of the virus. 

In addition to dismissing submitted complaints, the OSHA revised their mandatory reporting protocols to unrealistic standards. The revision outlines that employers are now only required to report to the OHSA when a worker, sick with COVID-19, is hospitalized within 24 hours of being exposed to coronavirus at a work-related incident.

Though employers who are required to maintain OSHA records related to employee illness or injury must still record confirmed work-related cases of COVID-19 infections, the new OSHA reporting regulations severely limit mandatory reporting requirements under OSHA for COVID-19 hospilizations. First, it is nearly impossible to determine whether an employee was infected at work or at a work-related incident. Second, most people infected with COVID-19 do not display any symptoms for a number of days, and then wait an additional day or so for a positive test to be returned. Moreover, those who are hospitalized with the virus are generally not admitted until symptoms become severe over a number of days after contracting the virus; therefore, employers may almost always avoid mandatory OSHA reporting, because the report of COVID-19 hospitalization occurs well beyond the 24 hour time limit from when an employee may have been exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace.

It is important to know your rights related to workplace safety and what you should do if you feel that you and your family are being put at risk due to your employer’s failure to comply with laws
that protect employee health and safety. Our experienced employment attorneys have handled various issues when representing employees in various professions. When dealing with your concerns of safety in your workplace, we recommend that workers:

  1. Inform your employer about unsafe or unhealthy workplace conditions . If possible, place your concerns regarding your working conditions in writing.
  2. Obtain documentation from your physician of your need for work accommodations if you are vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 due to a pre-existing medical condition.
  3. Provide a copy of the documentation from your physician to your employer and make a request for work accommodations in writing.
  4. If you feel that your employer’s practices create an unsafe or unhealthy workplace, record and retain written documentation of the unsafe conditions.
  5. Document discussions or concerns of fellow co-workers regarding their feelings towards workplace conditions or workplace practices that are unsafe or unhealthy.
  6. Contact any of our experienced employment attorneys to obtain information regarding your rights in the workplace and to discuss possible employment law claims.