As the number of vaccinated people continues to rise, more employers anticipate reopening and bringing employees back into the workplace. Unfortunately, we have all learned how contagious the coronavirus is and know that absolute protection is impossible. But employers have the legal duty under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause to furnish “a place of employment … free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to … employees.”
On April 27, 2021, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) announced in a news release that it cited a warehouse and distribution center in Naperville for violating the General Duty Clause of the Act after a coronavirus outbreak. The agency proposed a penalty of $12,288. The company may comply, ask for an informal conference or contest the charges.
According to the news release, employees attended a lunch in the facility’s breakroom, after which some in attendance began to experience symptoms of COVID-19. The company received its first reports of employees’ positive coronavirus tests in Oct. 2020.
OSHA, the main federal agency responsible for enforcing work-safety laws, alleges the employer “failed to take immediate steps to identify inform, isolate and quarantine all potentially exposed employees.” About two weeks after the first reports of positive cases, 23 workers had tested positive and one had died.
After an investigation, OSHA concluded that the employer did not follow its own “internally developed controls for potential coronavirus exposure” nor did it act quickly to contain the spread. After input from the county health department, the company closed that facility.
Anyone who believes they may have contracted the coronavirus at work should give their employer notice and file a workers’ compensation claim. Should the person experience long-term, disabling symptoms that keep them from working, consider whether they may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
(The news release linked to above contains links to OSHA materials about abatement of the threat of COVID-19 in workplaces and other helpful documents.)