It’s no secret that COVID-19 has changed the way we think about daily life — and the workplace is no exception.
If you’re like most people, you’ve become acutely aware of every sneeze, sniffle, and cough that happens around you when you leave your home. Your workplace has become a constant risk of exposure, even if you don’t work directly with the public.
But what exactly is your employer required to do to keep you as safe as possible? And who do you contact if you think they aren’t doing what they should to ensure your safety?
Understanding The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) goal is to assure that working conditions for men and women are safe and healthful. It authorizes the standards under the act to be enforced and encourages states to ensure safe working conditions.
The OSHA was enacted by the House of Representatives and Senate in the US to protect employees from biological, physical, and chemical hazards.
There are key areas of guidance in the OSHA in four risk categories — and you need to determine if your employer is violating any of those.
Low Risk of Exposure
This group includes workers such as office personnel that typically have minimal contact with the public. OSHA recommends that these employers:
- Develop a plan to prepare and respond to COVID
- Put prevention measure in place
- Introduce procedures and policies that identify and isolate people that are sick
- Follow all existing OSHA requirements for infectious diseases
Medium Risk of Exposure
The people in this medium-risk group have multiple points of contact with the public. This includes jobs such as grocery stores, retail, and schools. In addition to the steps for low-risk groups, employers should also:
- Install physical barriers between the public and employees such as clear panels
- Provide sick employees with adequate face masks
- Depending on their job roles, provide PPE (personal protective equipment)
- Provide alternatives like drive-throughs and remote working that limit the public’s access to your employees
High and Very Risk of Exposure
Jobs that are higher risk include health care support staff, workers that deal with deceased COVID patients, and employees that provide medical transport. Workers that are at the highest risk are the ones that are actively treating patients that are diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID.
For both high and very high risk, the guidelines for employers are the same.
- Follow all guidelines for low and medium risk workers
- Put patients into isolation if you suspect or confirm that they have COVID
- Provide education and training for workers
- Ensure that all staff has access to hand sanitizer with an alcohol level of over 60%
- Provide personnel with PPE
- Give employees the option to have medical monitoring
What To Do If You Think Your Employer Isn’t Keeping You Safe
If your employer isn’t doing what they can to keep you safe, you need to take action.
Talk to Your Employer
The simplest way to get a resolution is to express your concerns to your employer and allow them to address them. Most employers are still trying to understand their obligations and might be willing to make changes once they are aware.
File a Complaint with OSHA
If you think that your employer is failing to keep you safe and aren’t willing to make changes, you can file a complaint with OSHA.
You have to start by documenting the things about your workplace that aren’t safe. Then, you can include that evidence in your complaint when you contact OSHA in your state.
It’s important to understand that your employer is legally not allowed to take retaliatory measures against you because you raised a complaint. However, OSHA will conduct a review of your complaint, and then, if it’s valid, they will take action. These actions include inspecting your workplace and requiring your employer to come into compliance.
Refuse to Go To Work
If you fear that going to work puts you at risk of serious physical harm or death, you do have the right to refuse to come to work — if certain conditions are met. These include:
- Your employer fails to address the elements that are putting you in imminent harm in your workplace
- You are choosing to stop work in good faith.
- And, there isn’t enough time to rely on alternatives like filing a complaint.
Be aware that your employer is not obligated to pay you for this time off — even if your claim is justified.
Talk to an Attorney
At Sundquist Law Firm, we specialize in helping employees in Minnesota find resolution when their employer fails to take care of them.
COVID-19 has introduced many complexities in employer/employee relationships. Therefore, it’s important to know what your rights are and can seek restitution if needed.
Contact us today to see how we can help you.