Biden’s COVID-19 plan calls for a comprehensive response that will put scientists and public health officials front and center.
In addition to removing the cost barriers for testing, prevention, and treatment of COVID-19, the Biden transition team is working on measures that will help protect employees and employers from the public health crisis and subsequent economic hardships.
Here are four things you should know:
1. Expect a More Robust OSHA
Biden will aggressively encourage state OSHA regulatory boards to work in tandem with federal OSHA. Historically, states have been hesitant to adopt more stringent regulations recommended by their federal counterpart.
Additionally, the number of OSHA inspectors is expected to nearly double; currently, OSHA employs 761 inspectors, as compared to a decade ago when nearly 1,000 inspectors were in place.
For the past four years, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has not had a full-time director. Biden has assured that he will promptly fill all positions within the agency, and OSHA’s advisory committees and boards will be fully staffed and meet regularly.
With a more robust OSHA in play, you can expect an increase in inspections and enforcement of rules. To prepare, make sure your business is ready for an OSHA audit. Depending on regulations in your state, that might require documentation on tracking positive COVID-19 tests and symptoms of potentially infected employees.
2. Increase in Inspections, Citations, and Fines for Violations
As of Thursday, November 26, OSHA has received over 10,600 COVID-related complaints but has opened only 250 inspections. Often, the resultant fines have been paltry and further reduced during negotiations, even when violations were egregious.
A fully-staffed OSHA will be even better prepared to enforce rules and regulations that are already on the books, namely 29 C.F.R. § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv), which prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report work-related injury and illness. Furthermore, the doubling of OSHA inspectors means that employers can expect more frequent scrutiny of their operations and random inspections.
Biden will leverage OSHA to the full extent of the law and may consider raising the maximum penalties for OSHA violations. For reference, you can find the current OSHA maximum penalties here. It’s important that you understand the penalties and what is needed to avoid them and keep your team safe and in compliance.
3. New Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)
This is a needed step that has not yet been taken.
The Biden administration will hit the ground running by directing OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) on day one. States and even individual employers have been left to police themselves due to inaction on the part of government agencies and unfavorable rulings by district courts.
Because the current Cal/OSHA Chief, Doug Parker, is part of the Biden transition team, California’s recent standards presentation may be an indicator of what could be expected in this ETS. Further out, the Biden team will work to establish a permanent infectious disease standard.
Notably, Biden’s plan will also help provide the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), training, and financial resources needed for employers to implement guidance effectively. Are you properly training your employees with COVID-19 standards and guidance? If not, you should be.
4. Guaranteed Paid Sick and Care-Giving Leave
If an employee falls ill, the only way to prevent a workplace outbreak is for that employee and those who have come into contact with them to quarantine.
Under the new measures, employees would be guaranteed 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, seven days of paid sick leave for routine personal and family health needs, and time for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault to seek services.
An additional proposed plan would require 14 days of paid leave for those who are sick, exposed, or subject to quarantine. As part of the plan, employers will not bear any additional cost.
So that workers are not discouraged from reporting symptoms, a federal fund will be set up to cover 100% of weekly salaries or average earnings capped at $1,400 per week. Businesses may apply for reimbursement or deduct against their expected tax payments; direct payment to employees may be given in specific circumstances. This coverage is in addition to any existing sick leave policies a business already has.
If you’re not keeping documentation surrounding cases, symptoms, and time off, you should start. Having all of that organized and documented will prepare you for a potential future audit or necessary reimbursement.
What This Means for Employers
What your team members are exposed to at work will leak out into their communities and vice versa. By keeping your essential team members safe, the community at large is kept safe.
Employers should continue to ensure that they meet all current and expected OSHA standards, with particular attention paid to mitigating the risk posed by COVID-19.
With TeamSense, you can keep track of team member COVID-19 symptoms through a simple, daily text. In addition, your managers and team leads will get real-time notifications of who on their team is symptomatic and unable to come in, and you will be able to monitor trends across locations, shifts, and teams. To keep your team more informed, you can also send COVID-19 alerts and safety announcements through text.
At the end of the day, the COVID-19 pandemic is more than a workplace problem; it’s a worldwide problem, but it is still important for your team that you do your part in keeping them safe.