Several states currently require or strongly encourage employers to provide COVID-19 workplace safety training to employees. Below, we outline the state regulations and guidelines regarding COVID-19 employee training, as well as OSHA’s training recommendation in its revised COVID-19 workplace guidance.
On June 10, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) issued revised COVID-19 workplace guidance to protect workers and mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
OSHA’s revised COVID-19 workplace guidance advises employers to “train workers” on various safe work practices, including new scientific evidence on how the virus spreads, vaccinations, increased ventilation, masks, and social distancing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s “General Duty Clause” 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 states that its revised COVID-19 workplace guidance is intended to assist employers in complying with the “General Duty Clause” while the COVID-19 virus continues to circulate in the United States.
The Biden Administration has ramped up OSHA enforcement using the Act’s “General Duty Clause” to enforce COVID-19 worker protections. OSHA has issued more than 3x as many “General Duty Clause” violations as the previous administration.
Training employees on COVID-19 safe work practices not only demonstrates an employer’s commitment to employee safety, it also minimizes the risk of government enforcement actions, workers’ compensation claims, and employment litigation.
California and Washington require employers to provide employees with COVID-19 workplace safety training, while Virginia strongly encourages it. The employee training must include all mandatory training elements to be considered compliant.
Many employers learn the hard way that non-compliant COVID-19 workplace safety training can result in legal consequences, such as safety citations, penalties, and employee-initiated legal actions.
California employers are required to provide COVID-19 safe workplace training. Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (Cal/OSHA Standards) require employers to “provide effective training and instruction to employees” on a number of specifically identified topics.
California also requires all workers receive training on the “proper use of face coverings," regardless of vaccination status. See Cal/OSHA Standards §3205(c)(5)(D), (G).
On March 22, 2022, Virginia repealed its permanent standard regarding COVID-19 health and safety in the workplace. Effective March 23, 2022, the standard was replaced by guidance from the Department of Labor and Industries. The guidance urges employers to maintain effective COVID-19 policies and procedures and to train employees accordingly.
The Washington Department of Labor and Industries Requirements and Guidance for Preventing COVID-19 requires employers to maintain safety plans which address COVID-19 and to educate workers about COVID-19 prevention in the language they understand best.