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When is a Case of COVID-19 Work-Related?

Updated: Jun 3


According to OSHA's May 19, 2020 Revised Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), a work-related case of COVID-19 is a recordable illness under OSHA for companies with more than 10 employees. But when is a case of COVID-19 work-related? As OSHA itself notes, "[g]iven the nature of the disease and ubiquity of community spread, however, in many instances it remains difficult to determine whether a COVID-19 illness is work-related, especially when an employee has experienced potential exposure both in and out of the workplace." While there is no conclusive test. OSHA's publication provides the following five criteria to help employers determine whether a case of COVID-19 is work-related:

  • COVID-19 illnesses ARE LIKELY WORK-RELATED when several cases develop among workers who work closely together and there is no alternative explanation.

  • An employee's COVID-19 illness IS LIKELY WORK-RELATED if it is contracted shortly after lengthy, close exposure to a particular customer or coworker who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 and there is no alternative explanation.

  • An employee's COVID-19 illness IS LIKELY WORK-RELATED if his job duties include having frequent, close exposure to the general public in a locality with ongoing community transmission and there is no alternative explanation.

  • An employee's COVID-19 illness IS LIKELY NOT WORK-RELATED if she is the only worker to contract COVID-19 in her vicinity and her job duties do not include having frequent contact with the general public, regardless of the rate of community spread.

  • An employee's COVID-19 illness IS LIKELY NOT WORK-RELATED if he, outside the workplace, closely and frequently associates with someone (e.g., a family member, significant other, or close friend) who (1) has COVID-19; (2) is not a coworker, and (3) exposes the employee during the period in which the individual is likely infectious.

These criteria are not just useful to help employers comply with OSHA reporting standards; they also offer a common sense real-world approach to determine whether an employee's case of COVID-19 is likely workplace-related and, following from that determination, what further steps are needed to protect other employees and the public. Every employer should consider incorporating them into its workplace safety procedures. During this unpredictable time, every bit of knowledge helps.

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