COVID-19 Employment Resources


As concerns about the spread of COVID-19 continue to escalate throughout the country, we want clients and friends to know that the health and safety of our communities is of the utmost importance to Steptoe & Johnson.  Our firm has implemented our business continuity plan and will continue our operations throughout the duration of this public health crisis.  We have re-examined our service model to ensure prudent steps are in place to protect the public health and to provide legal services to our clients.

 

Alerts, Advisories and Resources

OSHA Issues Guidance on Preparing for COVID-19

OSHA to Prioritize Highest Risk Facilities for Inspection: What You Need to Do

Labor Management Issues During the COVID-19 Crisis

Paid Leave Laws Change in Response to Coronavirus

Final Versions of the New Federal Leave Acts (FFCRA)

COVID-19 Causing Restaurant/Bar/Venue Closures - Know Your Legal Requirements

 

Helpful resources 

DOL's Updated Questions and Answers

EEOC - What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and COVID-19

ADA - Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace  and the Americans with Disabilities Act - this resource includes an approved survey for assessing pandemic-based absence from your workplace.

CDC - Coronavirus (COVID-19)​


Frequently Asked
Questions

Please note that if you are in a union environment, you might have additional considerations before making some of the suggestions or inquiries below.

Please click the link below to select the section of interest.

ADA

NLRA

Privacy

Wage & Hour

OSHA/Workplace Safety

 

 

ADA

I have an employee who is displaying what could be symptoms of the coronavirus, can I send him home?

  • You may send employees home who exhibit the symptoms of the coronavirus. 

 

Can I ask if an employee is experiencing any symptoms?

  • You may ask employees if they are experiencing coronavirus symptoms such as sore throat, fever, body aches, and cough.  You, as an employer must, however, treat all information received from the employee as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA.

 

I believe I have employees who have underlying conditions that could place them in a high-risk category. Do I have the right to ask?    

  • Generally speaking, you may not ask employees if they have compromised immune systems or a chronic health condition that could make them more susceptible to coronavirus.  If they volunteer this information, you must treat it as confidential medical information in  compliance with the ADA.  If the pandemic becomes severe enough, you may have the ability to reasonably conclude that some employees may face a “direct threat” if they contract the coronavirus thus making disability-related inquiries or medical examinations permissible.

 

I have an employee who requests to work from home due to a compromised immune system or being part of an at-risk population.  Am I required to grant the leave?

  • If you have an employee who requests to work from home due to a compromised immune system or being part of an at-risk population, you must engage in the interactive process to determine whether the accommodation would pose an undue hardship on your business.

 

Can I enforce the CDC guidelines for good hygiene?

  • You may (and should) require employees to adopt infection control practices such as hand-washing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, proper tissue storage, and wearing PPE.  If an employee cannot follow protocol due to a disability (e.g., wear latex gloves), then you must engage in the interactive process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation exists for the employee.

 

Do I have the right to take employees' temperatures before they enter the worksite?

  • You may measure employees’ temperatures as a coronavirus screening method.  Remember, however, that not all employees carrying the coronavirus will present with a fever.  Also, remember that this action will be considered a “medical examination” and you must keep the result confidential.


I am sending my employees home.  Can I promote a policy that limits activities while they are off?

  •  You generally cannot limit employees’ off-duty activities (including travel).  You can, however, educate your employees about the dangers of travel, and you can require that they stay home for a period of time (typically 14 days) if the CDC or local health officials recommend that persons traveling to that region self-quarantine upon return.

 

Can I require a fitness-for-work exam before an employee returns to work?

  • Once an employee has been away from the workplace during a pandemic, you may require them to submit fitness-for-duty documentation before they can return to work so long as you treat all employees equally.

Back to Frequently Asked Questions

 

NLRA

A union represents a portion of my workforce.  The remainder of the workforce is not represented by a union.  If I  want to implement non-mandatory guidelines regarding the COVID-19 virus published by federal, state or local governments, must I bargain with the union before doing so?

  • First, there is no question that you can implement changes with respect to employees who are not represented by the union. As for the represented employees, many collective bargaining agreements include management rights clauses that give employers the right to make changes to work rules, so long as the changes do not contradict other specific provisions of the agreements.  If you have such a management rights clause, then there is a good chance you can implement guidelines without bargaining over the decision.  This is particularly true if you have an established history of making changes to work rules without first bargaining over those changes.  If it is unclear whether you have the right to unilaterally change work rules to comport with non-mandatory guidelines, then contact the union about the changes you seek to make.  The union may be quick to agree that the guidelines should be implemented.  If not, you will face a decision as to whether the risk to health and safety arising out of failure to implement recommended guidelines outweighs the risk of an unfair labor practice charge for unilaterally implementing changes without bargaining.

 

My company has fewer than 500 employees, so we are covered by the Families First Corona Virus Response Act.  Under a collective bargaining agreement we have with a union representing many of our hourly employees, we already provide more sick leave than they will get under this new legislation.  So, are we already doing what we need to do, with no additional requirements?

  • No, you are not already doing all that you need to do.  The sick leave that you already provide under the collective bargaining agreement does not count against the paid leave that employees may be entitled to under this legislation.      

 

The union that represents some of our employees has sent us a lengthy information request about what we are doing to protect employees from the COVID-19 virus.  We are not bargaining a contract right now.  We don’t have any pending grievances or arbitrations that have anything to do with this.  Do we have to answer?

  • Yes, you have to answer.   The union has the right to obtain information reasonably related to collective bargaining.  Even though you are not in the midst of bargaining a contract, and there are no relevant grievances or arbitrations pending, the concept of “collective bargaining” is sufficiently broad to encompass the union taking an interest in whether the company is taking steps to protect employees, and if so, what those steps are. That being said, the union should recognize that this emergency has strained resources to the limit.  Allocating time to draft a lengthy, detailed response may be very difficult.  We recommend reaching out to the union to let them know the request has been received, and then following up by providing available information when you can reasonably do so.  

 

We are faced with the necessity of laying off a substantial portion of our employees who are represented by the union.  Our collective bargaining agreement includes seniority-based layoff and recall provisions.  The problem is, we are also facing the possibility that a large number of employees will take paid leave under the Families First Corona Virus Response Act (“Families First Act”).  Many of our more senior employees appear to be the ones who will likely be eligible for paid leave under the Act. So, we anticipate the need to keep some relatively junior employees working so we can meet minimum production goals.  How can we do this?

  • This is one of the most difficult issues arising out of the Families First Act.  Over the next several weeks, small businesses are going to find it very hard to plan for staffing.  Small businesses with collective bargaining agreements face an even tougher challenge, because they must also take contract language (most often seniority-based) into account.  There is no easy answer.  One possible solution is based on the fact that some collective bargaining agreements exclude short-term or temporary layoffs from strictly seniority-driven decision-making.  If that is the case, in the short-term,  it could be that you have the right to conduct a layoff based on management needs, taking into account which employees you anticipate being available to work.  If there is no such exception in your agreement for temporary or short-term layoffs, then you could face a scenario in which junior employees are laid off, then intermittently recalled on short notice to fill gaps created when senior employees who are still working choose to take Family First leave.  The best you can do  to combat inefficiency in this situation is to take steps to ensure that laid off employees realize they may have an opportunity to work, and that you have the best possible means of communicating with them.

 

Back to Frequently Asked Questions

 

Privacy

How much information may an employer request from an employee who calls in sick, in order to protect the rest of its workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • During a pandemic, ADA-covered employers may ask such employees if they are experiencing symptoms of the pandemic virus. For COVID-19, these include symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. Employers must maintain all information about an employee's illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA. https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/wysk_ada_rehabilitaion_act_coronavirus.cfm

 

If an employee notifies the employer that he has a confirmed case of COVID-19, should the employer share this information with other employees?

 

 If an employee has a family member at home with COVID-19, should the employee report this to her employer?

What information should be kept confidential?

  • While HIPAA privacy restrictions only apply to individually identifiable health information (PHI) with “covered entities” such as medical providers or employer-sponsored group health plans, employers should treat all medical information as confidential with the same protections as HIPAA.  Employers should only disclose such information, as is minimally necessary, to authorized personnel such as health care providers, government personnel, or other emergency relief organizations such as the Red Cross, in order to ensure public health and safety.

  • Where an employee or employee's relative voluntarily discloses the individual's own diagnosis or symptoms to the employer, the EEOC's position is that the employer must treat the information as confidential) https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/pandemic_flu.html

    • An employer can only disclose this confidential medical information to a limited group, including: supervisors (to implement necessary work restrictions and accommodations), first-aid and safety personnel (if the disability requires emergency treatment), and government officials investigating ADA compliance.

    • An employer cannot share confidential medical information with co-workers, patients, or customers.

  • Employers should seek legal counsel for the best steps to take regarding confidentiality. Employers should also evaluate state privacy laws to ensure state law does not contain different or additional requirements or provisions.

Back to Frequently Asked Questions

 

Wage and Hour

Among the helpful COVID-19-related materials on the U.S. Department of Labor website is a comprehensive FAQ addressing employers’ obligations under federal wage and hour law in a public health emergency. Items addressed include how the Fair Labor Standards Act applies if an employer closes its business, an employee is quarantined, or employees are required to work from home. Employers also are reminded about FLSA’s restrictions on volunteer work and their pay obligations where employees are asked to work longer hours during the pandemic.

 

Can my business enlist volunteers to help out during the public health emergency?

  • If your business has a shortage of workers and is looking to “volunteers” to help out, be aware that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has stringent requirements with respect to the use of volunteers. In general, covered, nonexempt workers working for private, for-profit employers have to be paid at least the minimum wage and cannot volunteer their services. Check with DOL for the rules governing the circumstances where volunteering in the public and private, non-profit sectors may be allowed.

 

How many hours is an employer obligated to pay the hourly paid employee who works a partial week because the employer’s business closed? 

The FLSA generally applies to hours actually worked. It does not require employers who are unable to provide work to non-exempt employees to pay them for hours the employees would have otherwise worked.

 

If an employer directs salaried, exempt employees to take vacation (or leave bank deductions) or leave without pay during office closures due to influenza, pandemic, or other public health emergency, does this impact the employee’s exempt status?

  • Exempt, salaried employees generally must receive their full salary in any week in which they perform any work, subject to certain very limited exceptions.  The FLSA does not require employer-provided vacation time. Where an employer offers a bona fide benefits plan or vacation time to its employees, there is no prohibition on an employer requiring that such accrued leave or vacation time be taken on a specific day(s). Further, this will not affect the employee’s salary basis of payment so long as the employee still receives in payment an amount equal to the employee’s guaranteed salary. However, an employee will not be considered paid “on a salary basis” if deductions from the predetermined compensation are made for absences occasioned by the office closure during a week in which the employee performs any work. Exempt salaried employees are not required to be paid their salary in weeks in which they perform no work.

  • Therefore, a private employer may direct exempt staff to take vacation or debit their leave bank account in the case of an office closure, whether for a full or partial day, provided the employees receive in payment an amount equal to their guaranteed salary. In the same scenario, an exempt employee who has no accrued benefits in the leave bank account, or has limited accrued leave and the reduction would result in a negative balance in the leave bank account, still must receive the employee’s guaranteed salary for any absence(s) occasioned by the office closure in order to remain exempt. For more information, see WHD Opinion Letter FLSA2005-41.

 

What are an employer’s obligations to an employee who is under government-imposed quarantine?

  • WHD encourages employers to be accommodating and flexible with workers impacted by government-imposed quarantines. Employers may offer alternative work arrangements, such as teleworking, and additional paid time off to such employees.

 

How many hours per day or per week can an employee work?

  • The FLSA does not limit the number of hours per day or per week that employees aged 16 years and older can be required to work.

 

Can an employee be required to perform work outside of the employee's job description?

  • Yes. The ​FLSA does not limit the types of work employees age 18 and older may be required to perform. However, there are restrictions on what work employees under the age of 18 can do. This is true whether or not the work asked of the employee is listed in the employee's job description.

  • As part of your pre-influenza, pandemic, or other public health emergency planning, you may want to consult your human resource specialists if you expect to assign employees work outside of their job description during a pandemic or other public health emergency. You may also wish to consult bargaining unit representatives if you have a union contract.

 

If individuals volunteer to a public agency, are they entitled to compensation?

  • Individuals who volunteer their services to a public agency (such as a state, parish, city, or county government) in an emergency relief capacity are not considered employees due compensation under the FLSA if they:

  • Perform such services for civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation. The volunteer performing such service may, however, be paid expenses, reasonable benefits, or a nominal fee to perform such services; and,

  • Offer their services freely and without coercion, direct or implied; and,

  • Are not otherwise employed by the same public agency to perform the same services as those for which they propose to volunteer.

 

If individuals volunteer to a private, not-for-profit organization, are they entitled to compensation?

  • Individuals who volunteer their services in an emergency relief capacity to private not-for-profit organizations for civic, religious or humanitarian objectives, without contemplation or receipt of compensation, are not considered employees due compensation under the ​FLSA.  However, employees of such organizations may not volunteer to perform on an uncompensated basis the same services they are employed to perform.

  • Where employers are requested to furnish their services, including their employees, in emergency circumstances under Federal, state or local general police powers, the employer’s employees will be considered employees of the government while rendering such services.  No hours spent on the disaster relief services are counted as hours worked for the employer under the FLSA.

 

May an employer encourage or require employees to telework (i.e., work from an alternative location such as home) as an infection control strategy?

  • Yes. An employer may encourage or require employees to telework as an infection-control or prevention strategy, including based on timely information from public health authorities about pandemics, public health emergencies, or other similar conditions. Telework also may be a reasonable accommodation.

  • Of course, employers must not single out employees either to telework or to continue reporting to the workplace on a basis prohibited by any of the EEO laws. (See the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s publication Work at Home/Telework as a Reasonable Accommodation for additional information).

 

Do employers have to pay employees their same hourly rate or salary if they work at home?

  • If telework is being provided as a reasonable accommodation for a qualified individual with a disability, or if required by a union or employment contract, then you must pay the same hourly rate or salary.

  • If this is not the case and you do not have a union contract or other employment contracts, under the FLSA employers generally have to pay employees only for the hours they actually work, whether at home or at the employer’s office.  However, the FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt workers at least the minimum wage for all hours worked, and at least time and one-half the regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek.  Salaried exempt employees generally must receive their full salary in any week in which they perform any work, subject to certain very limited exceptions.

  • If the Service Contract Act (SCA) or state or local laws regulating the payment of wages also apply, nothing in the FLSA or its regulations or interpretations overrides or nullifies any higher standards provided by such other laws or authority. (See the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division for additional information on the SCA or call 1-866-487-9243.)

 

In the event an organization bars employees from working from their current place of business and requires them to work at home, will employers have to pay those employees who are unable to work from home?

  • Under the FLSA, employers generally only have to pay employees for the hours they actually work, whether at home or at the employer’s office.  However, employers must pay at least the minimum wage for all hours worked, and at least time and one-half the regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek.  Salaried exempt employees must receive their full salary in any week in which they perform any work, subject to certain very limited exceptions.  (See the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division for additional information or call 1-866-487-9243 if you have questions.)

  • When not all employees can work from home, we encourage you to consider additional options to promote social distancing, such as staggered work shifts.

 

Are businesses and other employers required to cover any additional costs that employees may incur if they work from home (internet access, computer, additional phone line, increased use of electricity, etc.)?

  • Employers may not require employees who are covered by the FLSA to pay or reimburse the employer for such items that are business expenses of the employer if doing so reduces the employee's earnings below the required minimum wage or overtime compensation.  (See the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division for additional information or call 1-866-487-9243 if you have questions.)

  • Employers may not require employees to pay or reimburse the employer for such items if telework is being provided to a qualified individual with a disability as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  (See the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s publication Work at Home/Telework as a Reasonable Accommodation, for additional information.)

 

Do OSHA’s regulations and standards apply to the home office? Are there any other Federal laws employers need to worry about if employees work from home?

  • The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have any regulations regarding telework in home offices.  The agency issued a directive in February 2000 stating that the agency will not conduct inspections of employees' home offices, will not hold employers liable for employees' home offices, and does not expect employers to inspect the home offices of their employees.  If OSHA receives a complaint about a home office, the complainant will be advised of OSHA's policy.  If an employee makes a specific request, OSHA may informally let employers know of complaints about home office conditions, but will not follow up with the employer or employee.

  • Employers who are required to keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses will continue to be responsible for keeping such records for injuries and illnesses occurring in a home office.

  • The FLSA and its implementing regulations do not prevent employers from implementing telework or other flexible work arrangements allowing employees to work from home.  Employers would still be required to maintain an accurate record of hours worked for all employees, including those participating in telework or other flexible work arrangements; and to pay no less than the minimum wage for all hours worked and to pay at least one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek to non-exempt employees.

  • Employers are encouraged to work with their employees to establish hours of work for employees who telework and a mechanism for recording each teleworking employee’s hours of work.  Non-exempt employees must receive the required minimum wage and overtime pay free and clear. This means that when a covered employee is required to provide the tools and equipment (e.g., computer, internet connection, facsimile machine, etc.) needed for telework, the cost of providing the tools and equipment may not reduce the employee’s pay below that required by the FLSA.  (See the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division for additional information or call 1-866-487-9243 if you have questions.)

  • Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, telework could be a reasonable accommodation the employer would need to provide to a qualified individual with a disability, barring any undue hardship.  However, an employer may instead offer alternative accommodations as long as they would be effective.  (See the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s publication Work at Home/Telework as a Reasonable Accommodation, for additional information.)


In the event an employer brings on temporary employees from a staffing agency to supplement its workforce due to staffing shortages, is the employer liable if the temporary employees are not paid in accordance with the wage requirements of the FLSA?

  • Under the FLSA, an employee may be employed by one or more individuals or entities.  If one or more of these employers are deemed joint employers, they may both be responsible—and jointly and severally liable—for the employee’s required minimum wage and overtime pay. The U.S. Department of Labor recently updated and revised its regulations providing guidance regarding joint employer status under the FLSA. The final rule provides updated guidance for determining joint employer status when an employee performs work for his or her employer that simultaneously benefits another individual or entity. The effective date of the final rule is March 16, 2020. For more information please visit: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/2020-joint-employment.

Back to Frequently Asked Questions

 

OSHA/Workplace Safety

OSHA has issued a very important and useful guide for employers to manage the coronavirus risks.  The guidelines below suggest employers can possibly remain open and keep employees working while taking the precautions as indicated in the employer’s risk category.

The OSHA Guide provides a framework for employers.  The complete 35-page document is at https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf.  The following are excerpts from that document:

 

What should I do to identify in which risk category our company falls?

Employers should review the criteria below to determine in which category the employer falls: The risk categories are: Very High Exposure Risk, High Exposure Risk, Medium Exposure Risk. and Lower Exposure Risk. 

 

Very High Exposure Risk

Very high exposure risk jobs are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures.  Workers in this category include:

  •  Healthcare workers (e.g., doctors, nurses, dentists, paramedics, emergency medical technicians) performing aerosol-generating procedures (e.g., intubation, cough induction procedures, bronchoscopies, some dental procedures and exams, or invasive specimen collection) on known or suspected COVID-19 patients.

  • Healthcare or laboratory personnel collecting or handling specimens from known or suspected COVID-19 patients (e.g., manipulating cultures from known or suspected COVID-19 patients).

  • Morgue workers performing autopsies, which generally involve aerosol-generating procedures, on the bodies of people who are known to have, or suspected of having, COVID-19 at the time of their death.

 

High Exposure Risk

High exposure risk jobs are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19. Workers in this category include:

  • Healthcare delivery and support staff (e.g., doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff who must enter patients’ rooms) exposed to known or suspected COVID-19 patients.  (Note: when such workers perform aerosol-generating procedures, their exposure risk level becomes very high.)

  • Medical transport workers (e.g., ambulance vehicle operators) moving known or suspected COVID-19 patients in enclosed vehicles.

  • Mortuary workers involved in preparing (e.g., for burial or cremation) the bodies of people who are known to have, or suspected of having, COVID-19 at the time of their death.

 

Medium Exposure Risk

Medium exposure risk jobs include those that require frequent and/or close contact with (i.e., within 6 feet of) people who may be infected with SARS-CoV-2, but who are not known or suspected COVID-19 patients. In areas without ongoing community transmission, workers in this risk group may have frequent contact with travelers who may return from locations with widespread COVID-19 transmission.  In areas where there is ongoing community transmission, workers in this category may have contact with the general public (e.g., in schools, high-population-density work environments, and some high-volume retail settings).

 

Lower Exposure Risk (Caution)

Lower exposure risk (caution) jobs are those that do not require contact with people known to be, or suspected of being, infected with SARS-CoV-2 nor frequent close contact with (i.e., within 6 feet of) the general public. Workers in this category have minimal occupational contact with the public and other coworkers.

 

Once I determine our company’s category, what should I do to determine the actions, controls, or measures I should make or take?

Once the employer determines its likely category, the employer should review the list of controls below corresponding to that category, under Engineering, Administrative, Safe Work Practice controls, and Personal Protective Equipment.

 

Jobs Classified at Lower Exposure

Risk (Caution): What to do to protect workers

For workers who do not have frequent contact with the general public, employers should follow the guidance for “Steps All Employers Can Take to Reduce Workers’ Risk of Exposure to SARS-CoV-2,” on page 7 of this booklet and implement control measures described in this section.

 

Engineering Controls

  • Additional engineering controls are not recommended for workers in the lower exposure risk group. Employers should ensure that engineering controls, if any, used to protect workers from other job hazards continue to function as intended.

Administrative Controls

  • Monitor public health communications about COVID-19 recommendations and ensure that workers have access  to that information. Frequently check the CDC COVID-19 website: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.

  • Collaborate with workers to designate effective means of communicating important COVID-19 information.

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Additional PPE is not recommended for workers in the lower exposure risk group. Workers should continue to use the PPE, if any, that they would ordinarily use for other job tasks.

 

Jobs Classified at Medium Exposure

Risk: What to do to protect workers

  • In workplaces where workers have medium exposure risk, employers should follow the guidance for “Steps All Employers Can Take to Reduce Workers’ Risk of Exposure to SARS-CoV-2,” on page 7 of this booklet and implement control measures described in this section.

Engineering Controls

  • Install physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards, where feasible.

 

Administrative Controls

  • Consider offering face masks to ill employees and customers to contain respiratory secretions until they are able to leave the workplace (i.e., for medical evaluation/care or to return home). In the event of a shortage of masks, a reusable face shield that can be decontaminated may be an acceptable method of protecting against droplet transmission. See CDC/ NIOSH guidance for optimizing respirator supplies, which discusses the use of surgical masks, at: www.cdc.gov/ coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/respirators-strategy.

  • Keep customers informed about symptoms of COVID-19 and ask sick customers to minimize contact with workers until healthy again, such as by posting signs about COVID-19 in stores where sick customers may visit (e.g., pharmacies) or including COVID-19 information in automated messages sent when prescriptions are ready for pickup.

  • Where appropriate, limit customers’ and the public’s access to the worksite, or restrict access to only certain workplace areas.

  • Consider strategies to minimize face-to-face contact (e.g., drive-through windows, phone-based communication, telework).

  • Communicate the availability of medical screening or other worker health resources (e.g., on-site nurse; telemedicine services).

 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • When selecting PPE, consider factors such as function, fit, decontamination ability, disposal, and cost. Sometimes, when PPE will have to be used repeatedly for a long period of time, a more expensive and durable type of PPE may be less expensive overall than disposable PPE.  Each employer should select the combination of PPE that protects workers specific to their workplace.

  • Workers with medium exposure risk may need to wear some combination of gloves, a gown, a face mask, and/or a face shield or goggles. PPE ensembles for workers in the medium exposure risk category will vary by work task, the results of the employer’s hazard assessment, and the types of exposures workers have on the job.

 

High Exposure Risk 

  • Jobs are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19.

 

Very High Exposure Risk 

  • Jobs are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures that involve aerosol generation or specimen collection/ handling. 

  • In rare situations that would require workers in this risk category to use respirators, see the PPE section beginning on page 14 of this booklet, which provides more details about respirators. For the most up-to-date information, visit OSHA’s COVID-19 webpage: www.osha.gov/covid-19.

 

Jobs Classified at High or Very High Exposure

Risk: What to do to protect workers

In workplaces where workers have high or very high exposure risk, employers should follow the guidance for “Steps All Employers Can Take to Reduce Workers’ Risk of Exposure to SARS-CoV-2,” on page 7 of this booklet and implement control measures described in this section.

 

Engineering Controls

  • Ensure appropriate air-handling systems are installed and maintained in healthcare facilities. See “Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Healthcare Facilities” for more recommendations on air handling systems at: www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5210a1.htm.

  • CDC recommends that patients with known or suspected COVID-19 (i.e., person under investigation) should be placed in an airborne infection isolation room (AIIR), if available.

  • Use isolation rooms when available for performing aerosol-generating procedures on patients with known or suspected COVID-19. For postmortem activities, use autopsy suites or other similar isolation facilities when performing aerosol-generating procedures on the bodies of people who are known to have, or suspected of having, COVID-19 at the time of their death. See the CDC postmortem guidance at: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-postmortem-specimens.html. OSHA also provides guidance for postmortem activities on its COVID-19 webpage: www.osha.gov/covid-19.

  • Use special precautions associated with Biosafety Level 3 when handling specimens from known or suspected COVID-19 patients. For more information about biosafety levels, consult the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories” at www.cdc.gov/biosafety/publications/bmbl5.

 

Administrative Controls

  • If working in a healthcare facility, follow existing guidelines and facility standards of practice for identifying and isolating infected individuals and for protecting workers.

  • Develop and implement policies that reduce exposure, such as cohorting (i.e., grouping) COVID-19 patients when single rooms are not available.

  • Post signs requesting patients and family members to immediately report symptoms of respiratory illness on arrival at the healthcare facility and use disposable face masks.

  • Consider offering enhanced medical monitoring of workers during COVID-19 outbreaks.

  • Provide all workers with job-specific education and training on preventing transmission of COVID-19, including initial and routine/refresher training.

  • Ensure that psychological and behavioral support is available to address employee stress.

 

Safe Work Practices Controls

  • Provide emergency responders and other essential personnel who may be exposed while working away from fixed facilities with alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol for decontamination in the field.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Most workers at high or very high exposure risk likely need to wear gloves, a gown, a face shield or goggles, and either a face mask or a respirator, depending on their job tasks and exposure risks. Those who work closely with (either in contact with or within 6 feet of) patients known to be, or suspected of being, infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, should wear respirators.  In these instances, see the PPE section beginning on page 14 of this booklet, which provides more details about respirators. For the most up-to-date information, also visit OSHA’s COVID-19 webpage: www.osha.gov/covid-19.  PPE ensembles may vary, especially for workers in laboratories or morgue/mortuary facilities who may need additional protection against blood, body fluids, chemicals, and other materials to which they may be exposed. Additional PPE may include medical/surgical gowns, fluid-resistant coveralls, aprons, or other disposable or reusable protective clothing.  Gowns should be large enough to cover the areas requiring protection. OSHA may also provide updated guidance for PPE use on its website: www.osha.gov/covid-19.

NOTE: Workers who dispose of PPE and other infectious waste must also be trained and provided with appropriate PPE.

The CDC webpage “Healthcare-associated Infections” (www. cdc.gov/hai) provides additional information on infection control in healthcare facilities.

 

Workers Living Abroad or Traveling

Internationally

  • Employers with workers living abroad or traveling on international business should consult the “Business Travelers” section of the OSHA COVID-19 webpage (www.osha.gov/covid-19), which also provides links to the latest:

  • CDC travel warnings: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers

  • U.S. Department of State (DOS) travel advisories: travel.state.gov

  • Employers should communicate to workers that the DOS cannot provide Americans traveling or living abroad with medications or supplies, even in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak. 

  • As COVID-19 outbreak conditions change, travel into or out of a country may not be possible, safe, or medically advisable.  It is also likely that governments will respond to a COVID-19 outbreak by imposing public health measures that restrict domestic and international movement, further limiting the U.S. government’s ability to assist Americans in these countries.  It is important that employers and workers plan appropriately, as it is possible that these measures will be implemented very quickly in the event of worsening outbreak conditions in certain areas.

  • More information on COVID-19 planning for workers living and traveling abroad can be found at: www.cdc.gov/travel.

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