COVID-19 Training: Preparing Employees for the ‘New Not-Normal’

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Foley & Lardner LLPWith the COVID-19 curve flattening, employers around the country are preparing to resume business operations and bring employees back to the workplace.  Of the many unique challenges employers face in the wake of the novel coronavirus, few are as important as maintaining a safe and healthy workplace.  Maintaining a safe and healthy workplace is in everyone’s best interest, as it will boost employee morale, establish trust and confidence among coworkers and the public, and allow businesses to emerge from this unprecedented public health crisis stronger and more prepared for the future.

Employers should take active steps to educate employees on COVID-19 risk factors and preventive behaviors by providing comprehensive training and resources.  Federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state agencies such as the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) have released helpful guidance on COVID-19 training that employers should consider using for training employees upon their return to work.  

OSHA’s guidance suggests that the following topics be covered when training employees on COVID-19:

  • Ways that COVID-19 is spread (even by asymptomatic individuals)
  • Symptoms and signs associated with COVID-19 exposure
  • How to isolate individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infections
  • How to report possible cases of COVID-19, including avenues of reporting
  • How to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including how to discard used PPE  
  • OSHA offers a variety of online resources for employee training, including training videos for respiratory protection equipment and OSHA's Training and Reference Materials Library.

On May 14, 2020, Cal/OSHA released the most robust training guidance currently available to employers.  In addition to training issues suggested by OSHA, Cal/OSHA lists the following areas for COVID-19 training:

  • General description of COVID-19 symptoms, when to seek medical attention, how to prevent its spread, and employer procedures for preventing its spread at the workplace
  • How an infected person can spread COVID-19 to others even if they are not sick
  • How to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by using cloth face covers, including:
    • CDC guidelines that everyone should use cloth face covers when around other persons
    • How cloth face covers can help protect persons around the user when combined with physical distancing and frequent hand washing
    • Information that cloth face covers are not protective equipment and do not protect the wearer from COVID-19
    • Instructions on washing and sanitizing hands before and after using face coverings, which should be washed after each shift
  • Cough and sneeze etiquette
  • Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after interacting with other persons and after contacting shared surfaces or objects
  • Avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoiding sharing personal items with coworkers (i.e., dishes, cups, utensils, towels)
  • Providing tissues, no-touch disposal trash cans and hand sanitizer for use by employees
  • Safely using cleaners and disinfectants, which includes:
    • The hazards of the cleaners and disinfectants used at the worksite
    • Wearing PPE (such as gloves)
    • Ensuring cleaners and disinfectants are used in a manner that does not endanger employees

It is important to note the above interim guidance from OSHA and Cal/OSHA does not impose new legal obligations, as existing federal and California regulations currently require employers to train workers on infection prevention and new workplace hazards.  Rather, the suggested COVID-19 training topics are offered to help employers meet their obligation of reducing the risks associated with COVID-19 as employees begin to return to the workplace.  

California is not alone in addressing this issue, as other states, such as Vermont, are beginning to require employers to provide COVID-19 training to employees as part of statewide reopening procedures.  If you are unsure as to the requirements in your state, please consult with employment counsel for additional information. 

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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