On March 12, 2021, OSHA announced the COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP) providing employers with notice of expected enforcement trends under the new Biden administration. Below are key points for consideration.
- One component of the NEP is targeted inspections of high hazard industries which provide a risk of COVID-19 infections. Employers in the health care sector would be considered high hazard. Any employer, whether healthcare or non-healthcare, should revisit their COVID-19 safety controls and ensure compliance with the CDC and OSHA recommended guidance.
- The Biden administration provided supplemental appropriation funds for OSHA to be used in a substantial part for facilitating increased inspections and enforcement. Workplaces with high potential for COVID-19 virus exposure will be prioritized for inspections. Inspections will combine both “on-site” and virtual formats and OSHA indicated that it expects employers to take a collaborative approach in cooperation with inspections.
- OSHA announced its intention with renewed purpose to investigate whistleblower complaints related to both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 cases. Employers, therefore, should ensure that employees are aware of their right to raise safety concerns without fear of retaliation. The best way to communicate non-retaliation is through a written policy that is clear and about which the employees are made aware. Employers should also ensure that managers and supervisors are trained on the proper handling of employee complaints.
- A COVID-19 vaccinated workforce does not justify relaxing COVID-19 safety policies. OSHA expressed concerns about the uncertainties of vaccinated employees exposing others to the virus and new COVID-19 strains. Therefore, employers should continue to enforce their COVID-19 policies in the workplace until such time as OSHA provides further guidance on this issue.
Employers should monitor the OSHA website for updates and guidance because COVID-19 remains a focus for OSHA. Please contact a member of our Labor & Employment Section with any questions.