Coronavirus in the Workplace

OSHA Issues Sobering Reminder to Employers About Reporting COVID-19 Related Fatalities and Hospitalizations

By Jason Patterson and Tracey Truesdale - Franczek P.C.

October 5, 2020

As if employers aren’t already tested managing the challenges of the pandemic, on September 30, OSHA updated its COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions to remind employers about their duty to report and record COVID-19 related fatalities and hospitalizations.  The reporting of a work-related fatality or hospitalization typically triggers an inspection by OSHA to assess the employer’s efforts to control workplace hazards.

Reporting Work-Related COVID-19 Fatalities

OSHA’s reporting and recordkeeping standard requires employers to “report a fatality to OSHA if the fatality occurs within thirty (30) days of the work-related incident.” For cases of COVID-19, the term “incident” means an exposure to the virus in the workplace.  To trigger a duty to report, a fatality due to COVID-19 must occur within 30 days of the employee’s exposure to COVID-19 at work.  The employer must report the fatality within eight hours of knowing both that the employee has died and that the cause of death was a work-related case of COVID-19.  To illustrate, if an employer learns that an employee died within 30 days of a work-related exposure and determines afterward that the cause of the death was due to COVID-19, the case must be reported within eight hours of that determination.

Separate from the reporting obligation, employers who are required to keep OSHA injury and illness records must also record work-related fatalities as required by 29 CFR 1904.4(a).

Reporting Work-Related COVID-19 Hospitalizations

OSHA’s reporting and recordkeeping standard requires employers to report in-patient hospitalizations to OSHA if the hospitalization “occurs within twenty-four (24) hours of the work-related incident.” For cases of COVID-19, the term “incident” means an exposure to the virus in the workplace. Therefore, to be reportable, an in-patient hospitalization due to COVID-19 must occur within 24 hours of the employee’s COVID-19 exposure at work. The employer must report a COVID-19 related hospitalization within 24 hours of knowing both that the employee has been hospitalized in-patient and that the reason for the hospitalization was a work-related case of COVID-19. Thus, if an employer learns that an employee was hospitalized within 24 hours of a work-related incident and later determines that the hospitalization was due to a work-related case of COVID-19, the case must be reported within 24 hours of that determination.

OSHA’s position that a hospitalization must occur within 24 hours of an employee’s on-the-job exposure to COVID-19 to be reportable conflicts CDC and other public health guidance about the amount of time that it takes symptoms to appear post-exposure, which the CDC has stated is anywhere from two days to two weeks.

Again, separate from the reporting obligation, employers who are required to keep OSHA injury and illness records must also record work-related confirmed cases of COVID-19.

OSHA’s revised enforcement guidance on reporting and recording COVID-19 cases, released in May, 2020, can be found at https://www.osha.gov/memos/2020-05-19/revised-enforcement-guidance-recording-cases-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19.

How to Report a Work-Related COVID-19 Hospitalization or Fatality

Employers can report a fatality or in-patient hospitalization in one of the following ways:

- Calling the nearest OSHA Area Office;
- Calling the OSHA 24-hour hotline at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742); or
- By electronic submission online.

An employer that believes it has a reportable case should consult with legal counsel before doing so, as oftentimes the information solicited by OSHA over the phone and in its online reporting system is broader than what an employer is legally required to provide.  Employers with questions about OSHA’s reporting and recordkeeping requirements should contact Tracey Truesdale, Jason Patterson, or the Franczek attorney with whom they regularly work.

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