Client Alert: New FAQ Responses from OSHA on Common COVID-19 Inquiries

July 13, 2020

As expected, federal agencies continue to issue guidance for employers regarding how to safely reopen their workplaces. On July 2, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) updated its frequently asked questions (“FAQ”) webpage, which Seward & Kissel previously reported on here, to provide employers and employees alike answers to OSHA’s most popular inquiries. In addition to its FAQ responses regarding the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks and respirators, OSHA provided guidance on safety measures for the construction and healthcare workplaces and the following topics:

  • General Information and Return to Work: provides links to OSHA’s and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (“CDC”) COVID-19 reopening guidance for employees and employers, alerts, information on workers’ rights, news releases, enforcement guidance, posters and videos.
  • Cleaning and Disinfection: provides links to resources for cleaning and disinfection of the workplace.
  • Employer Requirements: summarizes OSHA’s compliance recommendations for employers, namely that all employers should (1) develop infectious disease preparedness plans, (2) communicate those plans to employees “through effective training,” (3) conduct a hazard assessment of the workplace to assess risks and (4) implement necessary infection prevention measures to address the risks. The FAQ provides a link to OSHA’s tools for hazard identification and assessment.
  • Personal Protective Equipment: confirms employers’ duty to provide PPE that is appropriate for the particular workplace and to train employees about such PPE. If PPE is not required in a particular workplace, OSHA encourages employers to require employees to wear cloth face coverings (citing the CDC’s recommendations on the subject).
  • Restrooms and Handwashing Facilities: confirms employers must make restrooms and handwashing facilities available to workers consistent with OSHA’s sanitation standards.
  • Retaliation: outlines the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970’s prohibition on employers retaliating against workers for exercising their rights under the law, “such as filing a safety or health complaint with OSHA, raising a health and safety concern with their employers, participating in an OSHA inspection, or reporting a work-related injury or illness.” The FAQ provides information on OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.
  • Testing for COVID-19: states that OSHA does not require employers to notify other employees if one of their coworkers contracts COVID-19 but notes that employers must take “appropriate steps” to safeguard its employees and refers to CDC and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance on the subject.
  • Training: provides links to training resources available for employers and advises employers to provide training on (1) how COVID-19 spreads, (2) risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, (3) proper cleaning and disinfection, (4) infectious control measures being taken by the employer and its employees and (5) what employees should do if they are sick.
  • Worker Protection Concerns: outlines the steps workers should take if they are concerned about the safety of the workplace, including speaking with their supervisor or filing a complaint with OSHA.

If you have any questions regarding reopening under federal or state reopening guidance, please contact Anne C. Patin at (212) 574-1516, Julia C. Spivack at (212) 574-1373 or your relationship partner at the Firm.

Seward & Kissel has established a COVID-19 Resource Center on our web site to access all relevant alerts that we distribute.