Employers That Don't Protect Workers From COVID-19 May Find Themselves in OSHA's Crosshairs

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

March 16, 2021

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has implemented a new nationwide program focusing enforcement efforts on protecting high-risk employees from contracting the coronavirus. It also places renewed attention on employers that retaliate against workers for complaining about unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

The new program is the follow-up to President Biden's January 21 executive order directing OSHA and other federal agencies to take appropriate actions to keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure on the job. The order had called employee health and safety "a moral imperative."

In a statement, OSHA said its inspections under the program will enhance its previous coronavirus enforcement efforts and will include some follow-up inspections of worksites inspected in 2020. The program will remain in effect for up to one year - until no later than March 12, 2022 - though OSHA has the option of amending or canceling the program as the pandemic subsides.

"With more people being vaccinated and the number of infections trending down, we know there is light at the end of the tunnel, said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick. "But until we are past this pandemic, workers deserve a Labor Department that is looking out for their health."

States must notify the federal OSHA of their intent to adopt the new program no later than May 11.

In a related action, the federal agency announced it will prioritize on-site inspections where practical, or a combination of on-site and remote methods, so employers should be prepared for possible increased scrutiny.

Citations will be issued under the General Duty Clause when it is determined that an employer is not following OSHA or Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance in protecting employees from COVID-19.