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Did your employee contract COVID-19 at work? Why to investigate
When an employee claims they contracted COVID-19 at work, the employer must conduct an investigation for OSHA and workers' comp purposes.
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While we are still in the middle of a pandemic with no herd immunity or vaccination, it’s likely a “when” rather than “if” employees will contract COVID-19. When it does happen, will it matter whether employees say they contracted it from work?
Yes, for several reasons.
If COVID-19 is contracted at work, it becomes an OSHA reportable illness that will need to be documented. There may also be implications for workers’ comp, and, depending on the severity of recovery, short-term and long-term disability options.
But given the nature of the disease, it may be difficult to determine where COVID-19 was contracted, especially since community spread is alive and well throughout the country. To help determine whether infection may be work-related, consider the following criteria outlined by OSHA as part of your investigation:
- Ask the employee how she believes she contracted COVID-19.
- Discuss with the employee her work and out-of-work activities that may have led to the COVID-19 illness.
- Review the employee's work environment for potential COVID-19 exposure.
- Determine if there are any other instances of workers in the same work environment that have contracted COVID-19.
The following types of evidence may weigh in favor of COVID-19 work-relatedness when there is no alternative explanation:
- When several cases develop among workers who work closely together.
- If the employee contracts COVID-19 shortly after lengthy, close exposure to a particular customer or coworker who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
- When an employee’s job duties include having frequent, close exposure to the general public in a locality with ongoing community transmission.
The following types of evidence may weigh against work-relatedness when there is no alternative explanation:
- If an employee is the only worker to contract COVID-19 in her vicinity and her job duties do not include having frequent contact with the general public, regardless of the rate of community spread.
- If the employee closely and frequently associates with someone outside the workplace (e.g., a family member, significant other, or close friend) who (1) has COVID-19; (2) is not a coworker, and (3) exposes the employee during the period in which the individual is likely infectious.
In the event you cannot determine whether or not exposure in the workplace played a role with an employee contracting COVID-19, you won’t be required to record the illness in your OSHA log. However, you should maintain records of your investigation to demonstrate a good faith effort in trying to discover culpability.