A national auto insurance company is facing $23,406 in proposed penalties after investigators found that a Colorado branch ignored pandemic-related safety rules and “needlessly exposed” employees to co-workers with COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA initiated an investigation on April 21 after receiving a complaint about unsafe working conditions and an employee’s COVID-19-related death. “This company showed an indifference toward the safety and well-being of its employees, including one who fell victim to the coronavirus,” said OSHA Denver Area Director Amanda Kupper.
The employer has 15 days to comply or contest the citation. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
OSHA has issued about 650 coronavirus-related citations since July 2020, with total initial penalties exceeding $4 million as of Oct. 1, according to the agency.
We’ve rounded up resources and articles from SHRM Online and other trusted outlets on COVID-19-related litigation and workplace safety protocols.
COVID-19 Litigation Continues
According to law firm Littler Mendelson, there were 3,784 COVID-19-related lawsuits filed against employers between March 12, 2020, and Oct. 1, 2021. That number includes 356 class actions. The states with the most filings are California, New Jersey, New York, Florida and Ohio. Industries with the most filings include health care, manufacturing, public administration, retail and hospitality.
Increased Litigation Foreshadows Rough End to 2021
A sharp increase in pandemic-related workplace litigation this summer could spell trouble for employers, as attorneys expect to see a steady increase in COVID-19 lawsuits filed by employees across the country. “We typically see a slowdown in new lawsuit filings over the summer for a number of obvious reasons,” said Jay Glunt, a Pittsburgh-based Fisher Phillips attorney who spends considerable time defending employment litigation. “But the fact that we didn’t see much of a lull in employment-related COVID litigation—and in fact saw an uptick—sends a clear signal that we could be in for a rough couple of months ahead.”
OSHA Recommends Multilayered Approach to Workplace Safety
Employers must provide a safe and healthful workplace that is free from known hazards. According to OSHA, the coronavirus spreads mainly among unvaccinated people who are in close contact with one another, particularly when they are indoors and where ventilation is poor.
“Vaccination is the key element in a multilayered approach to protect workers,” OSHA said. “Multilayered controls tailored to your workplace are especially important for those workers who are unvaccinated or otherwise at risk.”
COVID-19 prevention programs generally include telework options and flexible scheduling, engineering controls (such as proper ventilation), vaccination and other safety policies, requirements for wearing personal protective equipment and face coverings, physical distancing measures, and enhanced cleaning programs.
OSHA’s Current Directives
OSHA issued a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) in June that applies only to the health care industry. The health care ETS focuses on settings where coronavirus patients are treated, including hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The agency also provided detailed recommendations for other employers on protecting unvaccinated and at-risk workers as the coronavirus crisis continues. The agency updated its guidance on Aug. 13 to reflect the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s masking and testing recommendations for fully vaccinated people.
OSHA Expected to Issue COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Rules
Businesses with at least 100 employees will soon be required to mandate that employees get vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to weekly testing. Employers are still waiting for OSHA to issue an ETS, and some key questions have yet to be answered, but employers should start preparing now. Ashley Brightwell, an attorney with Alston & Bird in Atlanta, suggested that employers start encouraging all employees to get vaccinated to make compliance easier once the rule goes into effect.
Check State and Local Workplace Safety Requirements
At least 14 states have adopted comprehensive COVID-19 workplace safety measures. California, for example, adopted and revised COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards, which include requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. Many amendments to Virginia’s standard took effect Sept. 8, although a requirement to create an infectious disease preparedness and response plan became operative on Oct. 8 and certain training requirements are not effective until Nov. 7. Employers should check municipality requirements, too.
(California Department of Industrial Relations) and (SHRM Online)
Visit SHRM’s resource hub on the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19.