Employers are requiring employees to work from home across the United States. This measure is implemented to protect the safety and well-being of employees. But this measure has also been implemented by employers to avoid liability under federal law.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“Act” or “OSHA”), employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace. The “General Duty Clause” of the Act requires an employer to protect its employees against “recognized hazards” to safety or health which may cause serious injury or death.
So how does OSHA figure out whether this “General Duty” clause has been violated by an employer during the Covid-19 outbreak? OSHA will examine national standards developed by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”), and the World Health Organization (“WHO”). As a result, employers should make sure that they are paying attention to what these organizations are recommending in terms of workplace safety. These standards are changing and will continue to change regularly as circumstances evolve and new information is discovered. If your office is not up to these standards then you may need to make some changes.
So what can employers do?
- Employers working in high exposure industries (healthcare or transportation or travel) should hire a professional to ensure that CDC and other standards are known and adhered to;
- Employers requiring or allowing employees to travel to high risk areas for work purposes should take all precautions recommended by the CDC, NIOSH, and WHO, as well as any other local organizations that might have more pointed, localized recommendations;
- Employers should strongly encourage remote work and, if possible, limit or eliminate in office attendance and work; and
- Report any cases of infection immediately to local authorities and promptly follow all recommended courses of action.