Employers operating essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic potentially face significant liability if they do not strictly adhere to the various COVID-19 workplace guidelines issued by government agencies.

According to a recent Washington Post article published on April 16, 2020, more than 3,000 complaints were filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) between January and April of this year by employees working in essential businesses. These complaints consisted of concerns over the lack of COVID-19 precautions adopted in the workplace, including shortages of equipment such as hand soap, disinfectant, masks, and gloves, social distancing problems, and working with co-workers with suspected COVID-19 symptoms.

This influx of complaints should serve as a warning for employers operating essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only could employers face an onslaught of OSHA claims, but may be subject to a variety of other claims for not implementing sufficient precautions. Such claims may include unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, tort liability, or even wrongful termination claims if a complaining employee is let go. Moreover, an employee that resigns could argue that he or she was constructively terminated if an employer fails to adopt proper COVID-19 precautions in the workplace.

While the current COVID-19 workplace guidelines issued by the OSHA and CDC are not legally binding, strictly enforcing these recommended precautions provides protection against these types of claims. The latest CDC guidance regarding workplace COVID-19 precautions can be found in our Compliance Matters newsletter from April 16th Click Here . Additionally, Cal-OSHA just published Interim Guidelines for General Industry on 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) OSHA Guidelines . Employers should closely monitor guidance published by these various agencies to ensure that they are staying on top of the changing situation.

Additionally, employers should continue to comply with the mandatory COVID-19 workplace precautions enacted by their city. The COVID-19 precautions adopted by the City of Los Angeles are described in our Compliance Matters newsletters from April 9th and April 13th –  April 9th Link / April 13th Link .
We will continue to keep you updated on any major COVID-19 related developments that impact the workplace. If you have any questions about the matters discussed in this issue of Compliance Matters, please call your firm contact at 818-508-3700 or visit us online at www.brgslaw.com .
Richard S. Rosenberg
Katherine A. Hren
Charles Foster
Ballard Rosenberg Golper & Savitt, LLP