OSHA COVID-19 Reporting Guidelines Require Reporting Of COVID-19 Fatalities (But Rarely Hospitalizations)

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We have discussed how employers are obligated to record COVID-19 cases that they have determined are work-related and are confirmed COVID-19 cases, but what happens when an employee who has contracted COVID-19 has to go to a hospital or dies?

All employers bear an obligation to report certain work-related incidents resulting in hospitalization or fatalities to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), but recently released OSHA guidance effectively requires employers to only report recordable COVID-19 illnesses which result in death.

The guidance provides that a case of COVID-19 is only reportable if it leads to either hospitalization within twenty-four hours of the initial exposure to COVID-19 or death within thirty days of that exposure. According to CDC data, COVID-19 infections generally take six days before causing any symptoms, and then another five days for the symptoms to become severe enough to call for hospitalization. Practically speaking, this means employers are rarely required to report COVID-19 hospitalization events to OSHA given how unlikely it is for people to be hospitalized within twenty-four hours of an initial exposure.

The same is not true for fatalities. According to the same data, it takes approximately 13 to 17 days after the onset of symptoms for death to result from COVID-19. Even taking into account the time it takes for symptoms to develop after initial exposure, this timeline is well within the thirty-day reporting window for fatalities.

While OSHA’s reporting timeline for hospitalizations may seem strange, it adheres to the regulation which requires employers to report hospitalizations “occurring within twenty-four (24) hours of the work-related incident.”[1]

Employers should keep in mind that OSHA changes its COVID-19 guidance regularly and should be prepared to handle changes to the regulatory interpretations above. Additionally, employer reporting requirements are independent of their recording requirements, and a COVID-19 infection may be recordable even if it is not reportable.

[1] 29 C.F.R. § 1904.39(b)(6).

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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