Is Your Employer Required to Report Cases of COVID-19 in the Workplace?
While no one seems to have said anything about the coronavirus , the pandemic appears to be over. Of course, the restrictions are loosened up and many of us had or will soon be required to return to work if you haven’t been there all the time. With the rise in new cases of the virus and a weak appetite for re-stopping in the country, you may wonder about your company’s legal responsibility for reporting COVID-19 cases to its employees.
As with so many other aspects of pandemic life, the problem is complex. While specific federal protections are limited, there are some additional measures that can help employees know if they have been exposed to the virus in the workplace. There are no federal regulations requiring employers to report COVID-19 cases to the CDC, but there are some state-level exceptions to this rule. There is also a general right of workers to be safe in the workplace, as well as the right to organize if they do not feel safe.
Federal guidelines for reporting to the CDC
“Currently, no federal law requires all employers to report cases of Covid-19 in the workplace,” Nandini Sane , a lawyer for Cozen O’Connor, told Lifehacker in an email. “These types of mandatory reporting requirements are usually addressed at the state and local levels and differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”
These exceptions are rare, and without extensive research or due diligence, it is sometimes difficult to determine if they apply to your company or specific circumstances. California, for example, requires employers to file a COVID-19 case if it is work-related and results in either death or several days of absence from work, job restrictions or job transfers, treatment other than first aid, loss of consciousness, or serious injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed healthcare professional.
Employees have the right to report hazards in the workplace
Reporting a COVID-19 case to the CDC is one thing. Another is to report COVID-19 cases to other sources, such as a colleague who may have been exposed. The CDC encourages employers to inform their employees about possible COVID-19 infection while maintaining the confidentiality required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Employees have the right to report workplace hazards, including COVID, to OSHA, state or local health authorities, the press, a lawyer, or colleagues without retaliation,” said Amal Buhabib, an attorney for Southern Migrant Legal Services. who provides free legal services to agricultural workers in the southern states, in a Lifehacker email. As Buhabib notes, employers are required by law to provide their workers with safe workplaces.
Employees have a general right to be aware of all known workplace hazards, which presumably would extend to notification of potential exposure to coronavirus. However, as Buhabib warns, this right comes from pre-existing OSHA standards, and their COVID-19 guidelines are guidelines only, not binding standards. These rights can also only be exercised by filing a complaint with OSHA.
Workers have the right to organize
If workers are concerned that their employer is not adequately protecting them, they have a general right to organize, a right protected by the National Labor Relations Act .
As Buhabib points out, some of the situations in which an employee will be protected from retaliation include: if he expresses concerns about unsafe working conditions, either to a colleague or on behalf of other employees; if workers talk among themselves about what to do in unsafe working conditions; if workers start petitioning for changes at work; if workers report workplace problems in the media or government agency; or if you form an alliance to tackle COVID-19. (It should be noted that these protections do not apply to agricultural workers, government and local government officials, domestic workers, supervisors and independent contractors.)
“I would be overlooked if I didn’t notice that while retaliation is illegal under the NLRA and OSHA, we all know retaliation happens anyway,” Buhabib said. “Another way to protect yourself at work is to document your complaints and employer’s responses, if possible and if [it is] safe.”
This will include sending all requests in writing and detailing your own observations. Another option is to record conversations or take photos or videos of violations, although Buhabib recommends talking to a lawyer before doing this to find out if such actions are legal in your state.
With the rise in cases and the ongoing re-discovery, it is more important than ever to know if you have been potentially exposed to the coronavirus. And when this potential impact occurs at work, you need to know what the law requires and what actions you can take to ensure maximum safety when entering your office.