Dealing with the coronavirus is new to all of us this year and one of the biggest questions employers have is, “Is COVID-19 considered an OSHA recordable illness?”
OSHA's Guidance on Determining if COVID-19 is an OSHA Recordable Illness
On April 10th, OSHA issued an interim guidance memo to help their compliance officers and businesses understand the enforcement requirements for cases of COVID-19.
The memo stated that under OSHA’s record-keeping requirements, COVID-19 is a recordable illness, and employers must record the case if the case meets these three criteria:
- If the case is a confirmed as a COVID-19 illness; meaning testing confirmed that the illness is COVID-19
- If the case is work-related as defined by OSHA. Which means it’s related to an exposure that took place in the work environment.
- If the case involves one or more of the general recording criteria from OSHA such as medical treatment beyond first aid or days away from work, or death.
Let's break that down just a little bit to make it more clear.
1. Has the case been confirmed as COVID-19?
This is simple asking that a test has been administered and you have confirmed evidence that the illness is actually COVID-19.
2. Is the COVID-19 work-related as defined by OSHA?
Okay, this is where we need to do a little work.
For this criteria, we follow OSHA's existing guidance on determining work-relatedness as found in 29 CFR 1904.5.
OSHA requires that for an illness or injury to be work-related it must have resulted from an event or exposure in the work environment the either caused or contributed to the resulting COVID-19 case.
It goes on to state "Work-relatedness is presumed for injuries and illnesses resulting from events or exposures occurring in the work environment, unless an exception in specifically applies". Those exceptions are outlined further in this article and in our YouTube video.
Here are OSHA's general exceptions listed in the standard as they may apply to COVID-19:
- At the time of the injury or illness, the employee was present in the work environment as a member of the general public rather than as an employee.
- The injury or illness involves signs or symptoms that surface at work but result solely from a non-work-related event or exposure that occurs outside the work environment.
- The injury or illness results solely from voluntary participation in a wellness program or in a medical, fitness, or recreational activity such as blood donation, physical examination, flu shot, exercise class, racquetball, or baseball.
- The injury or illness is solely the result of an employee eating, drinking, or preparing food or drink for personal consumption.
- The injury or illness is solely the result of an employee doing personal tasks (unrelated to their employment) at the establishment outside of the employee's assigned working hours.
- The injury or illness is solely the result of personal grooming, self medication for a non-work-related condition, or is intentionally self-inflicted.
How to Handle COVID-19 Cases When You Don't Know Where the Exposure Occurred?
How to Handle Cases of COVID-19 That Occur During Work Travel
COVID-19 cases that occur while an employee is on travel status are work-related if, at the time of the injury or illness, the employee was engaged in work activities "in the interest of the employer."
Some examples could include travel to and from customer contacts, conducting job tasks, and entertaining or being entertained to transact, discussing, or promoting business (work-related entertainment includes only entertainment activities being engaged in at the direction of the employer).
How to Handle COVID-19 Cases When an Employee is Working from Home
COVID-19 cases that occur while an employee is working at home, including work in a home office, will be considered work-related if illness occurs while the employee is performing work for pay or compensation in the home, and the injury or illness is directly related to the performance of work rather than to the general home environment or setting. As an example, if the employee is working from home and is exposed to family members who have COVID-19, the case would not be work-related.
3. Does the COVID-19 case involve one or more of the general recording criteria from OSHA?
If you'll remember OSHA's general recordability requirements (29 CFR 1904.7) for all injuries and illnesses, this is where they apply.
OSHA considers an injury or illness to be recordable if it results in any of the following:
- Days away from work,
- Restricted work (This could include isolation)
- Medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness
The one important fact you must also consider is that OSHA's language also includes recording requirements if the case involves a significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional, even if it does not result in death, days away from work, restricted work or job transfer, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness.
This means the diagnosis itself, could meet he record-keeping criteria if it is a work-related case.
The Good News About COVID-19 and OSHA Recordability
Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to immediately start thinking about how incredibly tricky determining work-relatedness could get, but I’ve got good news for you.
OSHA also stated that because of how widespread coronavirus is, employers may have a difficult time determining if the case is work-related. So, until further notice, OSHA won’t enforce its record-keeping requirements unless you’re in one of the following industries:
- Emergency response
- Correctional institutions.
For those of you not in those industries, you still need to claim the illness as OSHA recordable if there’s objective evidence that a COVID-19 case may be work-related; and the evidence was reasonably available to you as an employer.
This could involve cases where there is an outbreak in the workplace such as one confirmed coronavirus case infecting other employees who interacted with the infected individual.
For Employers in Healthcare, Emergency Response, or Correctional Institutions
For those of you who are employers in the healthcare industry, emergency response, or correctional institutions, you need to continue to make work-relatedness determinations so with any COVID-19 cases, start by evaluating the employee’s duties to get a clearer idea of whether or not one or more exposures could have caused the condition.
COVID-19 Can Be Considered and OSHA-Recordable Illness
To summarize, Yes, COVID-19 is an OSHA recordable illness and for most US businesses, OSHA has made determining work-relatedness a little bit simpler.
Use the OSHA guidance that is already in place for determining work-relatedness and if the case meets OSHA-recordability requirements.