President Joe Biden issued an executive order on January 21, 2021 calling for increased protection of the safety and health of workers from COVID-19. The order requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, such as masks, are necessary. See the Presidential Action
In order to protect the health and safety of workers from COVID-19, the Federal Government must take swift action to reduce the risk that workers may contract COVID-19 in the workplace. That will require issuing science-based guidance to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure, including with respect to mask-wearing; partnering with State and local governments to better protect public employees; enforcing worker health and safety requirements; and pushing for additional resources to help employers protect employees.
OSHA will enforce this order with the heads of any other appropriate executive departments and agencies. They will consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 are necessary and if so, issue them by March 15, 2021. Read the Full Executive Order
An emergency standard may be issued because they can proceed without the usual public comment period. On top of that, David Michaels, a former OSHA administrator under then-President Barack Obama, said an emergency temporary standard would help ensure that employers minimize workplace transmission of COVID-19. (Source)
What it Means For Businesses
Employers can expect increased enforcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the Biden administration and possibly emergency temporary standards to combat COVID-19. The hiring of more OSHA inspectors also is likely.
Eric Hobbs, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Milwaukee, predicted that a federal emergency temporary standard may encompass:
- Protective equipment
- Mandated face coverings
- Administrative controls like distancing, circulation of employees in limited numbers and requiring work from home when feasible
- Sanitation and housekeeping
- Employee training
Additional topics that might be addressed, though Hobbs said these are less likely to be considered, are:
- Case reporting to OSHA
- Engineering controls like the speed and regularity of movement of air in a workspace
- The treatment of employee time off for quarantining or recovery
But he acknowledged that what the emergency temporary standard will look like is difficult to say prior to its issuance. (Source)
OSHA is inundated with complaints right now. One commitment the Biden campaign has said it will make is to double the number of OSHA enforcement staff.
Todd Logsdon, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Louisville, Ky., said he expected the hiring of 200 to 250 more inspectors. “Once trained—maybe 18 months later—we would expect to see more inspections,” he said.
The number of OSHA inspectors will depend on the budget Congress approves for OSHA, noted Jonathan Snare, an attorney with Morgan Lewis in Washington, D.C. (Source)
For information related to this executive policy or any HR related query, contact HRinDemand, Your Total People Solution.
Melissa Marsh, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a human resources consultant and founder of HRinDemand, a human resources company in Reno, NV, offering expert guidance and easy-to-use tools to help small businesses with employment regulations, compliance, employee relations, and company growth.
“Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety.” The White House, The United States Government, 21 Jan. 2021, www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/21/executive-order-protecting-worker-health-and-safety/.
Allen Smith, J.D. “President Issues Executive Order on Increased Worker Safety During Pandemic.” SHRM, SHRM, 25 Jan. 2021, www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/coronavirus-executive-order-increased-worker-safety.aspx?linktext=President-Issues-Executive-Order-to-Increase-Worker-Safety-During-Pandemic&utm_source…
Allen Smith, J.D. “OSHA May Issue COVID-19 Standards Under Biden Administration.” SHRM, SHRM, 2 Dec. 2020, www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/coronavirus-osha-may-issue-covid-19-standards.aspx.
Cambon, Sarah Chaney. “Biden Moves to Set Covid-19 Workplace-Safety Rules.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 21 Jan. 2021, www.wsj.com/articles/biden-moves-to-set-covid-19-workplace-safety-rules-11611252898.