As the discussion about reopening workplaces continues, employers are facing questions of how to deal with employees refusing to return, how to remain compliant with federal anti-discrimination laws, and how (or whether) to require employees to undergo temperature screening or even COVID-19 diagnostic testing. While these latter efforts to screen out sick employees can play a role in keeping workplaces safe, employers still face the logistical challenges of ensuring employee safety for those on the job.
In that regard, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not to date set forth mandatory coronavirus-specific rules for workplaces operating or reopening during the pandemic. However, OSHA has recently issued guidance tailored to the construction, manufacturing, restaurant (takeout/pickup), and retail industries – as part of what the agency indicated will be a series of industry-specific alerts designed to keep workplaces safe. In addition, OSHA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laid out detailed interim guidance for the meat and poultry packing industry, citing multiple recent outbreaks of COVID-19 at meat and poultry processing facilities.
OSHA’s industry-specific alerts share several recommendations that all employers should consider as they continue to operate as essential businesses or plan for a safe reopening:
Beyond these common principles, OSHA provides helpful guidance accounting for the nature of employer operations in each area covered.
For construction, OSHA also advises:
For manufacturing, OSHA also advises:
For restaurants’ curbside pickup and takeout operations, OSHA also advises:
For retail (including pharmacies, supermarkets, and big box stores), OSHA also advises:
In addition to this basic industry guidance, OSHA and the CDC issued detailed guidance for meat and poultry processing employers in the wake of recent outbreaks of COVID-19 at meatpacking facilities. The guidance recognizes that the environments in these facilities “may contribute substantially” to workers’ exposure risk—citing close distance between workers on processing lines, while clocking in/out, or in locker/changing rooms; prolonged duration of contact (e.g., 10-12 hour shifts); and exposure through either respiratory droplets or contact with contaminated surfaces like workstations, tools, or breakroom tables. Notably, while the guidance is targeted at the meatpacking industry, employers with similar production-based operations may find the guidance useful as well.
The OSHA and CDC guidance recommends creating a COVID-19 assessment and control plan, and outlines the following key components for such a plan:
As the COVID-19 pandemic is an ever-evolving situation, employers in all industries should continue to regularly monitor OSHA guidance on operating during the pandemic.