OSHA COVID-19 Guidance for Reopening, the ADA, Rehabilitation Act and other EEO Laws, and Face Coverings

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been busy in June, releasing the below COVID-19 guidance for employers:

OSHA COVID-19 Guidance for Reopening

On June 15, 2020, OSHA released a bulletin reminding employers that safety is a priority within both COVID-19 and common workplace hazards. In all phases of reopening, employers must plan for potential hazards related to COVID-19 and from routine workplace processes. Employee stress, fatigue, and distractions may be increased by the pandemic and must be considered when employers develop their employee return-to-work plan. OSHA advises that employers re-evaluate their return-to-work plans, with employee safety and health as a priority, before trying to increase production or tasks in an effort to catch-up on downtime.

As part of their reopening plans, OSHA recommends employers provide workers with safety and health training reviews and address maintenance issues deferred during a shutdown. Employers should also revisit and update standard operating procedures and remember that exposures to hazards may increase during shutdown and start-up periods. It is important for employers to review and address process safety issues – including stagnant or expired chemicals – as part of their reopening effort. Employers must also remember that retaliating against workers for raising concerns about safety and health conditions is prohibited.

OSHA provides COVID-19-related guidance to help employers develop policies and procedures that address the following issues:

OSHA’s guidance for employers also includes frequently asked questions related to COVID-19 in the workplace such as worksite testing, temperature checks and health screenings, and the need for personal protective equipment. This guidance accompanies the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ previously developed Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.

Read more about COVID-19 on OSHA’s website

COVID-19, the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws

On June 11, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated it’s What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws guidance to address:

  • Employees are not entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to avoid exposing a family member who is at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition.
  • Responding to pandemic-related harassment due to national origin, race, or other protected characteristics.
  • Actions an employer can take when it learns that an employee who is teleworking due to the pandemic is sending harassing emails to another worker.
  • A best practice for employers to invite employees to request flexibility in work arrangements before employees return to work.
  • Steps an employer can take if an employee entering the worksite requests an alternative method of screening due to a medical condition.
  • Employees age 65 and over are at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19 if they contract the virus subsequently the CDC has encouraged employers to offer maximum flexibilities to this group. Employers must be mindful that employees over age 65 have protections under the federal employment discrimination laws and are prohibited from involuntarily excluding an individual from the workplace based on his or her being 65 or older, even if the employer acted for benevolent reasons such as protecting the employee due to higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Employers may provide any workplace flexibilities (telework, modified schedules, or other benefits) to employees with school-age children due to school closures or distance learning during the pandemic as long as these employees are not treated differently based on sex or other EEO-protected characteristics.
  • Employers may not exclude an employee from the workplace involuntarily due to pregnancy.
  • A right to accommodation based on pregnancy continues during the pandemic.

Read the guidance

OSHA, COVID-19, and Cloth Face Coverings

On June 10, 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released frequently asked questions and answers related to COVID-19 and cloth face coverings that address:

  • The key differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and respirators.
  • That OSHA’s PPE standards do not require employers to provide cloth face coverings because they are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) and are not intended to be used when workers need PPE for protection against exposure to occupational hazards.
  • OSHA’s recommendation that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work for source control purposes. Face coverings are intended to prevent wearers who have COVID-19 without knowing it (i.e., those who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic) from spreading potentially infectious respiratory droplets to others (this is source control).
  • Cloth face coverings do not substitute for social distancing measures.
  • CDC guidance on washing face coverings.
  • Surgical masks or cloth face coverings are not acceptable respiratory protection in the construction industry when respirators are needed but not available due to the pandemic.

Read the FAQs