You’re legally required by federal law to provide employees a workplace that’s “free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm” (OSH Act of 1970, Section (a)(1)).
Federal standards and COVID-19
If your communicable illness policies and response plan are inadequate, OSHA can cite you for violating this General Duty Clause.
If employees become infected through their work, they are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits (they aren’t able to seek compensation for pain, suffering or mental anguish).
In addition, OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) protects workers from “occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials.”
While this standard typically doesn’t include respiratory secretions that may transmit COVID-19, its provisions offer a framework that may help control some sources of the virus. These include exposures to body fluids, including respiratory secretions, not covered by the standard.
You also must protect employees from exposure to hazardous chemicals used for cleaning and disinfection, including common sanitizers and sterilizers that contain hazardous chemicals.
In addition, you’re also legally obliged to protect your customers, clients and vendors. If any are infected through your workplace, they cannot seek worker’s compensation, but they can sue you for greater damages.
Keep in mind 28 states have their own OSHA-approved State Plans. These hold employers responsible to compensate for illness or injury beyond workers’ compensation when employers fail to provide adequate protections.
Your action steps
The best way to ensure you’re prepared for COVID-19 is to have us run a tabletop exercise with your key people.
We’ll cover your:
- Policies and procedures to meet your duty of care
- Chain of command if your CEO falls ill or is unavailable
- Crisis communications plan for employees, board members, clients, shareholders, media
- Business continuity
Good leaders protect their people. Contact us today to see how we can make sure you’re prepared. Call 203 563 9999 or email me.
Harvard Business Review, March 4, 2020, “What Are Companies’ Legal Obligations Around Coronavirus?”