Executive Order Directs New Health Guidance for Employers

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On January 21, President Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to release new guidance to employers on protecting workers from Covid-19 within two weeks. The Executive Order also directs the agency to step up enforcement of existing rules to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace and to explore issuing a new rule requiring employers to take additional precautions.

Critics accused OSHA, which is part of the Labor Department, of weak oversight when it relaxed record-keeping and reporting requirements related to COVID-19 cases.

The agency declined to issue an enforceable standard for workplaces, and instead issued voluntary guidance with phrases like “if feasible” and “when possible.”

“[The Order] will precipitate a 180 for employers on having written plans and recordkeeping.” says John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey.

New Jersey received nearly 1,200 allegations of workplace safety violations in the weeks after Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order that went into effect November 2020 imposing safety rules on public and private employers. It took less than an hour to crash New Jersey's hotline to report violations, including the requirement that employees work from home when possible.

Sarno expects that the OSHA guidance will track the best practices of New Jersey, including distancing, masks and notifying employees.

The Order also directs OSHA to consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, including with respect to masks in the workplace, are necessary, and if such standards are determined to be necessary, issue them by March 15, 2021