Recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published new guidance clarifying when to report work-related hospitalizations and fatalities caused by COVID-19 to OSHA. According to the new FAQs, employers that learn a worker died within 30 days of becoming infected with COVID-19 at work have eight hours to report that fatality to OSHA. This means that a worker’s death must be reported within eight hours of the employer both knowing that the employee has died and that the cause of death was a work-related case of COVID-19. If the death occurs more than 30 days from the date of exposure on the job, OSHA does not require that it be reported. If an employee’s death occurs within 30 days from exposure on the job and an employer does not learn of it until a later date, the employer should still report to OSHA within eight hours after discovery.
OSHA also requires employers to report COVID-19 hospitalizations resulting from workplace exposure to the virus. Consistent with OSHA reporting requirements prior to COVID-19, employers must report to OSHA within 24 hours of becoming aware that an employee was hospitalized due to a workplace exposure to COVID-19 if that employee’s workplace exposure occurred within the 24 hours before their hospitalization. This means employers are not required by law to report hospitalizations that occur more than 24 hours after exposure, despite the fact that CDC guidance suggests that many people will not develop symptoms until between two days and two weeks after exposure to COVID-19.
This guidance clarifies confusion resulting from a July 2020 interpretation published by OSHA (and promptly removed from their website) stating that the work-related “incident” for OSHA purposes was a positive COVID-19 test resulting from workplace exposure, rather than the exposure itself. By contrast, under the new October 2020 guidance, the “incident” is the workplace exposure to COVID-19. The new guidance is more in line with OSHA reporting requirements prior to COVID-19 and will likely result in fewer reports of COVID-19 work-related cases.
Employers should note that these guidelines only apply to reporting; employers who are required to keep OSHA injury and illness records must still record work-related confirmed cases of COVID-19, as required by 29 CFR 1904.4(a). For more information on recording cases of COVID-19, see this OSHA Enforcement Guidance.
For additional guidance from OSHA on workplace best practices during the pandemic, see our prior article: Consideration for Re-Opening Your Place of Business.