Based on the updated guidelines from OSHA, how does OSHA view the employer’s responsibility to record and investigate cases related to COVID-19?

On May 19, OSHA issued revised guidance on work-relatedness determinations (removing the previous differing approaches for healthcare and non-healthcare settings). OSHA now only requires the recording of “confirmed cases”, which require at least one respiratory specimen that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.1 Under OSHA's revised recordkeeping requirements, COVID-19 is a recordable illness if:
  • The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19, 
  • The case is work-related if an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition, and
  • The case results in death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, loss of consciousness, or the illness is diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional.1
Employers are not expected to undertake extensive medical inquiries. It is sufficient in most circumstances for the employer, when it learns of an employee's COVID-19 illness, (1) to ask the employee how he believes he contracted the COVID-19 illness; (2) while respecting employee privacy, discuss with the employee his work and out-of-work activities that may have led to the COVID-19 illness; and (3) review the employee's work environment for potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure including other workers in that environment contracting COVID-19 illness.1

An employee's COVID-19 illness
is likely work-related if:
  • Several cases develop among workers who work closely together and there is no alternative explanation.
  • It is  contracted shortly after lengthy, close exposure to a particular customer or coworker who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 and there is no alternative explanation.
  • Job duties include having frequent, close exposure to the general public in a locality with ongoing community transmission and there is no alternative explanation.1
An employee's COVID-19 illness is likely not work-related if:
  • Only worker to contract COVID-19 in the vicinity and the job duties do not include having frequent contact with the general public, regardless of the rate of community spread.
  • Outside the workplace, worker closely and frequently associates with someone (e.g., a family member, significant other, or close friend) who (1) has COVID-19; (2) is not a coworker, and (3) exposes the employee during the period in which the individual is likely infectious.1
Cases need to be recorded if it is more likely than not that exposure in the workplace played a causal role with respect to a particular case of COVID-19.1

OSHA has also provided a reminder that employers need to respond appropriately to protect workers, regardless of whether a case is ultimately determined to be work-related.1

Since OSHA has indicated that the revised guidance is intended to be time-limited they advise frequently checking OSHA's webpage at for updates.1



  1. US Department of Labor. Revised Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). May 19, 2020. April 10, 2020.

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The Forum does not necessarily represent an official ACOEM position. The Forum is intended for health professionals and is not intended to provide medical or legal advice, including illness prevention, diagnosis or treatment, or regulatory compliance. Such advice should be obtained directly from a physician and/or attorney. Questions are answered with the best available data or recommendations at the time.