Does an Employer Have a Duty to Report a COVID-19 Case?
On March 11, 2020, The World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 as a global pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the world, employers struggle with business continuity while keeping their employees safe. In the United States, many employers follow the White House Guidelines for Opening Up America Again to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
But due to the highly infectious nature of the virus, it is difficult to completely safeguard your employees. If an employee becomes infected by COVID-19, there are a few things an employer must do to help stop the spread of the virus and protect their business from liabilities.
Does the Federal Law Require an Employer to Report a COVID-19 Case
Currently, there isn’t a federal law requiring employers to report cases of COVID-19 to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or other federal agencies. Typically, state and local public health departments will address mandatory reporting. Because mandatory reporting laws vary state to state, most businesses don’t fall under these reporting laws.
But while businesses are not legally bound to report a COVID-19 case, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 states that employers should report a disease or illness in the workplace if it is both recordable and reportable. Since this act requires reporting recordable diseases, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determines which diseases and illnesses fit this criteria.
The OSHA Mandate To Report a COVID-19 Case
On April 10, 2020, OSHA put forth the Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a guideline about when employers should report a COVID-19 case.
Under these requirements, OSHA designated COVID-19 as a recordable illness. In compliance with these requirements, an employer must record cases of COVID-19 if:
- An employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, as defined by the CDC.
- The COVID-19 case is work-related as defined by 29 CFR § 1904.5
- The COVID-19 case meets one or more of the general recording criteria outlined in29 CFR § 1904.7
Mainly, for the duration of the pandemic, employers must report to OSHA any confirmed COVID-19 cases that are work-related and meets OSHA general recording criteria. A COVID-19 case is considered work-related if exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the COVID-19 infection or significantly aggravated the COVID-19 virus.
Has someone in your business been diagnosed with COVID-19? Contact Invictus Law to understand your rights concerning workers’ compensation and COVID-19.
Report a COVID-19 Case to Local Health Organizations
To prevent an outbreak, businesses should coordinate with state and local health officials to respond if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19 appropriately. The CSTE has a directory of state epidemiologists who can help employers decide their next course of action when they report a COVID-19 case. The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) also provides a national directory of local health organizations.
Depending on local regulations, these local health organizations will have different strategies for mitigating the impact of COVID-19. They may also create a special investigation team to stop outbreaks that may require more expertise and resources than for a typical case investigation.
CDC Guidance for COVID-19 Cases
The CDC has specific guidance for investigating employees with COVID-19. You should contact a local health organization if:
- Two or more employees have been diagnosed with active COVID-19.
- Two or more employee COVID-19 cases have been linked, and the linkage is outside of a case investigation. An example of this is two infected employees who work at the same office, but only one or neither was listed as a possible contact to the other.
The local health organization will ensure the business follows proper investigative procedures to determine if the COVID-19 case was contracted in the workplace. This will also help identify and absolve the employer of any liability.
Because COVID-19 has a lengthy incubation period and transmission has been widespread non-occupationally, employers and local health organizations may have difficulty determining if the COVID-19 case was contracted at work.
If an employee does contract COVID-19, and the infection did occur during employment, the employer should:
- Report the COVID-19 case to a local health organization.
- The employer’s legal counsel may want to discuss liability and law requirements with the health department.
- Engage workers’ unions, if applicable, to address worker safety and other issues.
- Interview and record details about the employee’s employment, hours, working conditions, and anyone they may have contacted.
- Inform employees of possible exposure to the virus but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- Keep potentially exposed employees at home for 14 days to telework and self-monitor for symptoms.
- Wait 24 hours to clean and disinfect to minimize other employees being exposed.
While this may be an inconvenience that can temporarily halt business, it is better to take the proper steps to prevent the virus from spiraling into an outbreak. If the virus spreads throughout the company, it can dramatically affect business operations and continuity.
While employers aren’t legally obligated to report COVID-19 cases, OSHA has issued a mandate to report COVID-19 cases to your local health organizations to help fight the spread and reduce the chances of an outbreak.
Failing to report may lead to legal liability if the virus spreads within the company. Following the CDC and OSHA guidelines will protect your employees and potential lawsuits for negligence in the workplace.
Invictus Law, P.C. is a small workers’ compensation law firm specializing in representing California’s injured workers. We strive to help clients get the care they need to obtain the best recovery possible and get on with their lives.
The worker’s compensation system is broken, so we want to help our clients get through some of those hurdles they will encounter so they can get the appropriate medical care and heal from injuries.
Are you in need of legal counsel for your business about liabilities and regulations related to COVID-19? Invictus Law can advise you on how to protect your business and employees.
Related Link: Occupational Diseases and Workers’ Comp in California