Are Employee COVID-19 Cases OSHA Recordable?

The number of COVID-19 cases has passed 500,000 nationwide and 20,000 in Florida. Many of these cases occurred after workplace exposure, such as from a customer or co-worker. But, since the virus can be picked up anywhere, how can a work-related source be confirmed so that the case is recorded as an occupational illness on the OSHA 300 form? Fortunately, on April 10, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued guidance to employers (excluding medical providers, first responders and correctional facilities). OSHA’s guidance relieves employers of some responsibility for investigating and recording cases of COVID-19 among employees, but businesses still must record those that are obviously work-related.

Under 29 CFR § 1904.5, an employer must consider an injury or illness to be work-related if an event or exposure in the work environment (as defined by 29 CFR § 1904.5(b)(1)) either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness. Work-relatedness is presumed for injuries and illnesses resulting from events or exposures occurring in the work environment unless an exception applies.

Originally, OSHA had advised employers to record all work-related cases of COVID-19 on its OSHA 300 log. But since it’s not always clear whether an employee picked up the virus at work or brought it to work from somewhere else, its difficult to determine. The new OSHA Guidance confirmed that COVID-19 is a recordable illness, but employers may assume a COVID-19 case is non-work related unless there is objective evidence that the COVID-19 case happened at work. Employers are not obligated to investigate the illness and work-relatedness, except in two specific circumstances.

Employers are required to record cases whenever:

  1. There is objective evidence that a COVID-19 case may be work-related. This could include, for example, a number of cases developing among employees who work closely together without an alternative explanation.
  2. The evidence was reasonably available to the employer (such as when there is evidence that information was given to the employer by employees, and if the employer learns about the work-relatedness in the ordinary course of managing its business and employees.

Once an employer is aware that a COVID-19 case is work-related, an employer is required to record the work-related illness on its OSHA 300 log. OSHA also issued an interim enforcement response plan for COVID-19 for its field offices on April 14.  Stay safe and healthy, and if you have HR questions or need assistance, just give us a call at (727) 350-0370.

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