- A Colorado sheriff's office has been sued by prisoners claiming that jail staff refused to follow COVID-19 prevention measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Instead, plaintiffs alleged, staff told incarcerated people that "we're just going to let the virus run its course" (Weikert, et al. v. Elder (D. Colo., Dec. 13, 2020)).
- The coronavirus has spread "at will" in the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center, where, among other things, face masks were not only not required but also prohibited. On Nov. 8, 2020, the jail's website "confirmed that at least 859 inmates in the jail, out of a population of approximately 1,200 had tested positive for the coronavirus." Seventy-three staff members tested positive the next day, according to court documents.
- The sheriff "continues to fail to meet his constitutional obligations in two overarching respects," the plaintiffs claimed: failing to implement adequate protective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and "failing to ensure adequate evaluation, monitoring and treatment of symptomatic inmates confirmed or suspected positive for COVID-19."
Safety advocates earlier this year requested the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issue temporary emergency workplace standards, but a federal appeals court in June declined to require that the agency act. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business advocacy organization, argued that the agency "reasonably decided that coupling OSHA's existing safety standards with flexible, industry-specific guidance informed by evolving scientific understanding" was enough to protect workers.
Employers have enacted safety measures on top of federal, state and local requirements. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for instance, gave employers the green light to screen for COVID-19 symptoms, including testing employees for a fever. It also ruled last month that employers may require proof of COVID-19 vaccination — with some notable exceptions.
But government approval is only one portion of enforcing workplace safety. Employers are also tasked with ensuring staff, customers and others follow COVID-19 protocols such as mask mandates, social distancing and sanitizing measures. If businesses fail to enforce certain measures, they may face a greater liability, sources previously told HR Dive. "If they are lax on enforcement and turning a blind eye, they breached their duty to create a safe environment for customers," Booher Law Firm Employment Attorney Michael Booher said in an interview.
It follows that training staff to implement safety measures is of great importance. Employees should posses a thorough understanding of standards and procedures, and employers should also provide training on how they can best interact with those who are not compliant.