Do employers have a duty to prevent worker exposure to COVID-19 infection?

Employers have to protect their employees as best they can under the general duty clause when it comes to hazard protection. Covid-19 is no exception when it comes to hazardous working conditions. For this reason, OSHA has recently published a document on respiratory protection guidance during times when the number of N95 respirators fall short of the current need. Employers must be familiar with this document as they have an unfortunate chance of being cited under the Respiratory Protection standard, 29 CFR 1910.134(d) for not attempting any of the following:

  • Made a good faith effort to find suitable replacements for N95 masks during a shortage.
  • Eye protection and surgical masks were provided to mitigate infection caused by large droplets and splashes if N95 masks were in short supply.
  • New hazard protection measures have been implemented in the workplace such as restricted access, cohorting patients, partitions, work practices, and administrative and engineering controls.
  • Lastly, the prioritization of N95 masks for those who are in contact with the infected regularly. Mask use has been monitored in conjunction with CDC guidelines.

The decision by an employer on whether or not an employee should wear face coverings, such as an N95 or cloth mask, depends on the level of risk present in a normal workday. It is also highly dependent on the feasibility of employers in either providing masks or requiring employees to provide masks for themselves when developing an infectious disease preparedness and response plan designed to prevent sickness in the workplace.

OSHA and the CDC have worked tirelessly to provide excellent guidance on dealing with disease outbreaks. They cover topics on guidance for specific industries to what Covid-19 symptoms look like and countless others. Do your duty as an employer to keep essential workers and others safe.


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