COVID 19 and the SMALL BUSINESS Part IV: Is Coronavirus an OSHA Violation? What about Workers’ Comp?

I’ve received a few questions from clients wondering if they are risking either OSHA violations or workers’ compensation claims if an employee contracts coronavirus and claims they got it from work.   Although this would all be very case-by-case, for most employers the answer would be that the risk of these claims is very low.

OSHA has issued Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID 19, a 35 page booklet (link below).  This comprehensive report breaks down workplaces into 4 categories – Very High Risk, High Risk, Medium Risk and Low Risk.  Outside of hospitals, EMS workers or similar medical settings, most employers will fall in the Medium to Low Risk categories.  (Retail may be medium risk, an office setting low risk.)  The Guidance then explains what type of personal protective equipment (PPE), engineering controls and administrative controls are recommended for each risk category.

As for workers’ comp, a coronavirus claim (if made) would be evaluated under the standards for occupational diseases.  To get this type of claim allowed, an employee would have to prove the disease was: (1) contracted in the course of employment; (2) that it was peculiar to the employment; and (3) that the employment created a risk of contracting the disease in a greater degree and in a different manner than in the public generally.  Needless to say, outside of a hospital environment this would be nearly, if not absolutely, impossible to prove. 

Again, each case would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but for most employers the risk of OSHA or BWC claims is very low. 

Recommended Action Steps for Employers:

Review the OSHA Guidance to determine what risk category your business falls in, and review the recommended “controls” and PPE that would apply to your workplace.  Listen to, and address, employee concerns about coronavirus risks in the workplace – whether that risk comes from within the workplace (from other employees) or externally through clients, customers, or the general public. If you have any questions regarding coronavirus related employment issues, please contact Jennifer Corso., 216-381-3400.

COVID 19 and the SMALL BUSINESS Part III: Is it Getting Hot in Here?

On March 18th, during the Governor’s daily afternoon briefing, he requested businesses to begin taking temperatures of employees.  This was followed up in a tweet issued by the Governor’s office later that afternoon:

We are asking businesses — beginning immediately to take the temperature of every single employee every day before they come to work. We’re asking them to be aggressive in regard to cleaning surfaces and having soap/hand sanitizer available. Send employees home who are sick.

Less than 24 hours later, Governor DeWine had publicly recognized that there was an extreme shortage of thermometers available in stores, and on-line orders had weeks long backorders.  However, he still encouraged employers to do what they could, and if they could not personally take employee temperatures to instruct employees to do so before coming to work. 

While this request was not an official order, it is recommended that employers do what they can to comply. 

Recommended Action Steps for Employers:

If you have a forehead or touchless thermometer available, use it to take the temperature of every employee before they start work.  Ideally, this would be done before they enter the workplace, or as close to the employee entrance as possible.  If an employee has a fever (100.4° F), send them home.  (If they have coronavirus symptoms and need to isolate they may apply for unemployment.)  If you do not have a thermometer, instruct all employees to take their temperatures before leaving for work, and to call in if they have a fever or other symptoms. If you have any questions regarding coronavirus related employment issues, please contact Jennifer Corso., 216-381-3400.

COVID 19 and the SMALL BUSINESS Part II: Expansion of Ohio Unemployment Benefits

On March 16, 2020, Governor DeWine signed an executive order expanding unemployment benefits for workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.  With this order and subsequent updates, the changes to the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services (ODJFS) benefit both employees and employers.

Changes for Employees:

Employees may now be eligible for unemployment compensation if any of the following occur*:

The employer shuts down operations resulting in the employee’s full layoff

The employer suffers a slow down/loss of work, resulting in the employee’s reduction of hours

The employee is requested by a medical professional or local health authority to be isolated or quarantined due to COVID 19 circumstances

The employee is requested by the employer to be isolated or quarantined due to COVID 19 circumstances

Waiting periods will be waived for any claim filed under the above circumstances

Requirements that employees actively search for work while receiving benefits will be waived

* Employees must meet ODJFS’s regular eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits, having at least 20 weeks of employment and earned a minimum average weekly wage of $269 during the base period.

Changes for Employers:

For contributory employers, all claims filed under COVID 19 rules will be charged to ODJFS’s  “mutual account”, meaning the employer’s account will not be charged

Penalties for late reporting and payments will be waived

Recommended Action Steps for Employers:

If an employee is laid off due to COVID 19 circumstances, instruct them to file for unemployment benefits.  All employees should be given the Mass Layoff form (link below). 

Additional resources:

FAQ for employers:

FAQ for employees:

Mass Layoff form: If you have any questions regarding the new ODJFS rules, employee layoffs or other coronavirus related employment issues, please contact Jennifer Corso., 216-381-3400.