COVID-19

Oregon OSHA Warns Against COVID-19 Retaliation

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon OSHA) reminded employers they are not allowed to retaliate against employees who must isolate or quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oregon and COVID-19, Oregon OSHA

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Last fall, Oregon OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) for workplace COVID-19 exposures that took effect November 16, 2020, and is expected to remain in effect until May 4. All employers may soon have to comply with a federal temporary standard.

Portions of Oregon’s temporary rule include the following employee and employer requirements:

  • When the Oregon Health Authority, a local public health agency, or a medical provider recommends an employee be restricted from work for isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19 through contract-tracing activities, for example, the affected employee may be directed to isolate at home and stay away from nonquarantined people.
  • If an employee must isolate or quarantine because of COVID-19, the employer must allow the employee to work at home if suitable work is available and the employee’s condition would not prevent it.
  • Employees who isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19—either because of the temporary rule or because their employer takes extra precautions—must be allowed to return to their previous job duties if they are still available and without any adverse action.
  • Decisions about testing and returning to work after an employee has been in quarantine or isolation must be made according to current public health guidance and be consistent with guidance from the employee’s medical provider.

Employees who are required by their employer to report to work during quarantine or who are retaliated against may file a complaint with Oregon OSHA.

“If employees have been told or need to quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19, they must be allowed,” Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood said in a statement.

“Also, their employer must not penalize them for doing so. If employers violate this rule, it could be costly.”

Penalties for a violation of Oregon’s temporary COVID-19 rule may be between $100 and $12,750 if it is not willful and between $8,900 and $124,749 for a willful violation, according to the agency.

Oregon OSHA offers a multimedia “COVID-19 Training Requirements” course to help employers understand their employee training obligation under the temporary COVID-19 rule. The online interactive course takes about an hour to complete, according to the agency, and provides an overview of the training requirements and explains the dangers of COVID-19.

The course covers the signs, symptoms, and spread of the virus and shows how to reduce its hazards through physical distancing, face coverings, sanitation, and proper ventilation. Oregon OSHA also provides online employer resources that include the agency’s COVID-19 hazards poster, a model policy for notifying employees when a COVID-19 infection occurs, an exposure risk assessment form, and an infection control plan template.

Oregon was one of four states, along with California, Michigan, and Virginia, that established emergency temporary rules for workplace COVID-19 exposures. On January 13, the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board adopted a final permanent COVID-19 standard.

On January 21, President Joe Biden issued Executive Orders directing the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to consider establishing a COVID-19 ETS by March 15 and to issue updated employer guidance within 2 weeks. Safety advocates said employers need an enforceable standard to clarify their obligations for employee health and safety during the pandemic.