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What are demands to protect workers after illness happens? How do workers respond to a COVID outbreak in the workplace?

This question is from a series of questions and answers on Worker Rights and Strategies for Staying Safe During COVID-19 created by National COSH to support workers during the pandemic.

WHAT ARE DEMANDS TO PROTECT WORKERS AFTER ILLNESS HAPPENS? HOW DO WORKERS RESPOND TO A COVID OUTBREAK IN THE WORKPLACE?

  • The identification of new COVID cases in the workplace should be taken very seriously by the employer and workers. In all circumstances, the identity of the affected individual should be kept confidential.
  • Often, many employers have withheld information about positive cases. This makes the situation worse by preventing effective contact tracing and making it hard to take remedial action to prevent future cases.
  • Unfortunately there are few specific requirements currently mandating all cases be reported to any agency. There may be some jurisdictions that require COVID-19 cases to be reported to the local health department.
  • If the employer acknowledges  that the worker got infected by workplace exposures, then the employer must report it on their OSHA 300 log, which is accessible to employees. Many employers are not doing this and instead blaming positive cases on ‘community spread.’
  • Positive cases should trigger an investigation to determine the reason for the infection.  This information can be used to increase protections and  prevent other exposures. The Workplace COVID-19 Prevention Plan should then be revised to increase the level of protections for all workers and the public.
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