- The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched a program that will expand inspection and enforcement efforts for companies with workers who are at high risk for contracting COVID-19. The "COVID-19 National Emphasis Program" is a response to President Joe Biden's Jan. 21 executive order on protecting worker health and safety.
- The program will prioritize enforcement of retaliation standards, focusing on "employers that retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions," according to a March 12 statement.
- The program will be in effect for as long as one year, OSHA said.
OSHA's new program appears to be taking a hard look at employers who retaliate against workers. OSHA previously encouraged employers not to retaliate against workers who report unsafe working conditions. Last spring, the agency reminded employers that it is illegal to retaliate against workers who report unsafe and unhealthy working conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, OSHA released guidance for employers on keeping employees safe from COVID-19 exposure. "Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace" is aimed at most non-healthcare settings. The guidance reinforced the use of face coverings and urged that prevention programs include the use of personal protective equipment as well as a hazard assessment and measures to impede the spread of coronavirus.
OSHA also suggested at that time that employers craft policies for absences that "don't punish workers" in an effort to encourage potentially infected employees to stay at home. OSHA recommended that the policies and procedures be communicated in English and other languages.
Last fall, OSHA released guidance that employers must report a work-related COVID-19 employee death within eight hours of learning about it and that in-patient hospitalizations related to workplace exposure must be reported to OSHA if the hospitalization occurs within 24 hours of a work-related incident.