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State agency initiates a temporary rule to address COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace

A state agency is warning businesses that it is illegal to retaliate against employees who must quarantine or isolate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon OSHA) implemented a temporary rule in mid-November addressing COVID-19 workplace risks, its intent "to curb the spread of coronavirus in all workplaces by requiring employers to implement a comprehensive set of risk-reducing measures," a release from the agency said, adding the rule is expected to remain in effect until early May.

"If employees have been told or need to quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19, they must be allowed," Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA, said. "Also, their employer must not penalize them for doing so. If employers violate this rule, it could be costly."

Costly indeed. The potential penalty for violating the temporary rules runs from $100 to $12,750 for a violation that is not willful, and between $8,900 and $124,749 for a willful violation.

Specific tenets of the state's policy include:

• Whenever the Oregon Health Authority, local public health agency, or medical provider recommends an employee be restricted from work due to quarantine or isolation for COVID-19, such as through identification during contract tracing activities, the affected employee must be directed to isolate at home and away from other nonquarantined people.

• If an employee must quarantine or isolate for COVID-19, the employer must allow the employee to work at home if suitable work is available and the employee's condition does not prevent it.

Employees who quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19 — either due to the temporary rule or because their employer takes extra precautions — must be allowed to return to their previous job duties if they are still available and without any adverse action.

• Decisions about testing and returning to work after an employee has been in quarantine or isolation must be made according to applicable public health guidance and be consistent with guidance from the employee's medical provider.

For more information on OSHA's temporary rule, visit https://bit.ly/3hP2zCv. Those workers who have been retaliated against or required to work during a quarantine, may file a complaint at https://bit.ly/3rYuXXJ.


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