When is COVID-19 Work-Related?



  • On May 26, 2020, OSHA issued a memo entitled Revised Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), detailing employers’ responsibilities in determining whether a COVID-19 infection was work related. It includes the following criteria:

    • The reasonableness of the employer’s investigation into work-relatedness. Employers, especially small employers, should not be expected to undertake extensive medical inquiries, given employee privacy concerns and most employers’ lack of expertise in this area. It is sufficient in most circumstances for the employer, when it learns of an employee’s COVID-19 illness, (1) to ask the employee how he believes he contracted the COVID-19 illness; (2) while respecting employee privacy, discuss with the employee his work and out-of-work activities that may have led to the COVID-19 illness; and (3) review the employee’s work environment for potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure. The review in (3) should be informed by any other instances of workers in that environment contracting COVID-19 illness.

    • The evidence available to the employer. The evidence that a COVID-19 illness was work-related should be considered based on the information reasonably available to the employer at the time it made its work-relatedness determination. If the employer later learns more information related to an employee’s COVID-19 illness, then that information should be taken into account as well in determining whether an employer made a reasonable work-relatedness determination.

    • The evidence that a COVID-19 illness was contracted at work. CSHOs should take into account all reasonably available evidence, in the manner described above, to determine whether an employer has complied with its recording obligation. This cannot be reduced to a ready formula, but certain types of evidence may weigh in favor of or against work-relatedness. For instance:

    • 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.

    This information is part of my free eBook, The Imperative Guide to Reopening Your Workplace, revised 06/08/2020.


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