OSHA COVID-19 Reporting Guidelines

Q. One of our nursing home employees who was exposed to a COVID-19-positive resident just returned to work from a 14-day quarantine after testing negative. Do we have to record it in the Occupational Safety and Health Act logs?

A. At the most basic level, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Act) requires an employer to keep records of all work-related injuries and illnesses. This record-keeping requirement has remained in effect throughout the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently operating under temporary guidelines while the pandemic continues.  These temporary guidelines provide extra factors for the employer consideration when determining whether the COVID-19 illness was contracted at work.  These extra factors have been developed due to the nature of the illness and the difficulty in determining conclusively, in most cases, whether transmission is truly work-related, given that most individuals have the potential to be exposed both in and out of the workplace.  Be aware that OSHA may update this guidance at any time.

It appears that you have already made a determination that your employee was exposed at work, but under the guidelines, you are allowed to consider further evidence should the employee later provide you with additional information related to contracting the illness.  Given the current circumstances in your business market, it may be likely that the employee did contract the illness at the workplace.  While you will need to record the occurrence, recording the illness does not of itself mean that your facility has violated any OSHA standards.  The main concern with the interim guidance is that employers are responding appropriately in order to protect others.  Incidentally, OSHA has instructed that COVID-19 occurrences should be coded as a respiratory illness on the log, and that if an employee voluntarily requests that his or her name not be disclosed on the log, the employer must comply. 

Jason R. Mau is an attorney in the Boise office of Parsons Behle & Latimer.  He can be reached at 208-562-4898 or jmau@parsonsbehle.com