On May 27, 2020, Cal/OSHA issued a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document providing guidance on when employers should record and report COVID-19 employee illnesses. In many ways, the guidance document mirrors what Federal OSHA has also published on the subject.
California employers must record work-related fatalities, injuries, and illnesses related to COVID-19 like any other occupational illnesses. The illness must be work-related and result in any of the following criteria:
- Days away from work
- Restricted work or transfer to another job
- Medical treatment beyond first aid
- Loss of consciousness
- Significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional
Definition of Work-Related Illness
An injury or illness is presumed to be work-related if it results from events or exposures occurring in the workplace, unless an exception in section 14300.5(b)(2) specifically applies. A work-related exposure in the work environment includes:
- Interaction with people known to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19)
- Working in the same area where people known to have been carrying SARS-CoV-2 had been
- Sharing tools, materials or vehicles with persons known to have been carrying SARS-CoV-2
Given the disease’s incubation period of 3 to 14 days, exposures will usually be determined after the fact. If there is no known exposure that would trigger the presumption of work-relatedness, the employer must evaluate the employee’s work duties and environment to determine how likely the employee would have been exposed during the course of their employment.
COVID-19 cases should generally be confirmed through testing to be recordable. However, due to test shortages and other circumstances, not all persons determined to have COVID-19 have been tested.
There may also be other situations in which an employers must determine whether to record the case even though testing did not occur or the results are not available to the employer. Cal/OSHA recommends erring on the side of recordability.
Cal/OSHA requires an employer to report all serious injuries, illnesses, or deaths occurring at work or in connection with work without making a determination about work-relatedness. This includes COVID-19 illnesses. Reporting must occur within eight hours of when they knew or should have known about the incident if it meets the definition of a serious illness.
Even if an employer cannot confirm that the employee contracted COVID-19 at work, the employer should report the illness to Cal/OSHA if it results in in-patient hospitalization and if there is substantial reason to believe the employee was exposed in their work environment.
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