Several states require employers to develop and implement COVID-19 prevention and response plans to protect employees and the public in their workplaces.
This article provides the state-specific orders, guidelines, and regulations that mandate COVID-19 plans. The article also summarizes OSHA’s revised COVID-19 workplace guidance.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (the Act) requires employers to “comply with safety and health standards and regulations issued and enforced either by OSHA or by an OSHA-approved state plan.”
Also, the Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide workers with a “workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”OSHA’s guidance on Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace advises employers to develop and implement a COVID-19 prevention program – also known as a plan. The program should, at a minimum, involve “conducting a hazard assessment; identifying a combination of measures that limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace; adopting measures to ensure that workers who are infected or potentially infected are separated and sent home from the workplace; and implementing protections from retaliation for workers who raise COVID-19 related concerns.” OSHA also recommends employers involve workers, unions, or other employee representatives in developing the program.
Even if not required at the federal level, employers should develop and implement a COVID-19 prevention program/plan. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s “General Duty Clause,” employers must provide workers with a safe and healthy workplace. Employers can meet this requirement by, in part, implementing a COVID-19 plan to protect both their workers and the public. Developing and implementing a COVID-19 plan also demonstrates an employer’s commitment to employee safety and minimizes the risk of government enforcement actions, workers’ compensation claims, and employment litigation.
California requires employers to develop and implement a specific COVID-19 prevention plan, while Washington requires COVID-19 prevention to be addressed in a safety plan, whether individually or alongside other hazards.
California's COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards require employers to “establish, implement, and maintain an effective, written COVID-19 Prevention Program.”
The ETS applies to “all employees and places of employment” except (1) places of employment with one employee who does not have contact with another person; (2) employees working from home; or (3) employees who are covered by Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases Standard (generally applicable to healthcare facilities).
The COVID-19 Prevention Program may be integrated into the employer’s Injury and Illness Program or developed and maintained as a separate document.
To eliminate or reduce the risk of workplace COVID-19 exposure, the ETS requires COVID-19 Prevention Programs to address a wide variety of workplace safety measures, such as developing an employee communication system, conducting worksite-specific risk assessments, implementing engineering and administrative controls, and providing personal protective equipment when needed.
The ETS also requires employers to make their COVID-19 Prevention Program available at the workplace to employees, authorized employee representatives, and representatives of the Cal/OSHA immediately upon request.
The Washington Department of Labor and Industries Requirements and Guidance for Preventing COVID-19 requires employers to address "COVID-19 notification, reporting, and prevention measures in the employer’s workplace-specific, written Accident Prevention Program or equivalent safety program." These measures must be based on a hazard assessment and kept up to date with COVID-19 developments.