California Employers Face Broader Recording and Reporting Obligations for COVID-19 Illnesses

Guidance issued by the California Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) sets forward strict obligations for recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses for employees who contract COVID-19. The guidance differs in some key aspects from guidance issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

California’s Guidance for Recording COVID-19 Illnesses

California employers must record work-related COVID-19 illnesses on their Log 300s that result in death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, loss of consciousness, or a significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other healthcare professional. An injury or illness is considered “work-related” if an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness. Work-relatedness is generally presumed for injuries and illnesses resulting from events or exposures occurring in the work environment.[1]

The Guidance explains that a work-related exposure in the work environment for COVID-19 would include:

  • Interaction with people known to be infected with COVID-19;
  • Working in the same area where people known to have been carrying COVID-19 have been; or
  • Sharing tools, materials, or vehicles with persons known to have been carrying COVID-19.

If there is not a known exposure triggering the presumption of work-related illness, the Guidance provides factors employers should consider when determining whether an exposure is work-related:

  • The type, extent, and duration of contact the employee had at the work environment with other people, particularly the general public
  • Physical distancing and other controls that impact the likelihood of work-related exposure
  • Whether the employee had work-related contact with anyone who exhibits signs and symptoms of COVID-19

Employers may have to record COVID-19 cases on their Log 300s even if the employee does not have a positive test result. Cal/OSHA considers a positive test for COVID-19 determinative of recordability, but the guidance acknowledges that there may be other situations, such as testing shortages, in which an employer must make a recordability determination even though the testing did not occur or the results are not available to the employer. 

California’s Guidance for Reporting COVID-19 Illnesses

Employers are required to report any COVID-19 serious illness that occurs at work or in connection with work within eight hours. For example, if an employee becomes ill at work and requires hospitalization, that must be reported. Additionally, employers are required to report any serious injuries, illnesses, or deaths occurring at the worksite. This means that if an employee experiences a serious illness from COVID-19 while at work, it must be reported, even if the illness is not work-related. Finally, an employer should also report a serious illness if there is cause to believe the illness may be work-related, regardless of whether the onset of symptoms occurred at work.

Differences Between California and Federal Guidance

In key aspects, California’s recording and reporting COVID-19 guidance differs from federal standards. First, by requiring reporting in certain circumstances even without a positive COVID-19 test result, Cal/OSHA is broader than the federal reporting standard. Second, Cal/OSHA requires reporting of a serious injury or illness at work even if the COVID-19 illness is not work-related. 

The Guidance underscores that reporting a serious illness is not an admission that the illness is work-related and also is not an admission of responsibility. As counties lift restrictions on businesses and more employees return to their place of work, employers need to be prepared to make determinations about how to record and report COVID-19 illnesses.

[1] 8 CCR § 14300.5(a).

Beveridge & Diamond’s Occupational Safety and Health practice group works alongside clients’ legal, EHS and technical teams, to help resolve critical enforcement, compliance, and regulatory issues relating to their facilities and operations. For more information, please contact the authors.