The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, and most businesses remain closed for the duration. As some essential businesses stay open and a piecemeal rollout of other companies appears on the horizon, questions arise about the potential liability of business owners, should their employees contract the illness in the workplace. Below, we provide an overview of the current federal and state regulations concerning personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, for employers and employees. The rules and regulations are shifting rapidly, so make sure to speak with a knowledgeable New York personal injury attorney if you are concerned that your employer is not utilizing adequate safety measures in light of the global pandemic, or if you have contracted an illness as a result of your employer’s negligence.
Employers have a duty to keep their employees safe
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued guidance concerning how employers and employees should prepare for workplace activity during the coronavirus pandemic. OSHA notes that, while there are no specific rules concerning the coronavirus, there are general guidelines that apply to all employers at all times, particularly when there is an occupational hazard of exposure to an infectious illness. Employers are generally required to keep the “place of employment… free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
Employers must furnish PPE to workers who interact with the public
Under preexisting OSHA regulations, employers are required to furnish PPE to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards and keep their employees safe. PPE may include gloves, foot and eye protection, protective hearing protection (earplugs, muffs), hard hats and respirators, depending on the hazard at play. Specific industries and job duties have specific PPE requirements, as well as other safety rules.
An executive order from Governor Cuomo clarifies the obligation for employers in New York during the coronavirus pandemic: Essential businesses must provide protective face coverings for employees who interact with customers or the public. There are a variety of face masks that may be utilized, including cloth masks, surgical masks, N-95 respirators, and face shields.
Employers cannot require employees to bring their own PPE
OSHA regulations explicitly require employers to pay for PPE used to comply with OSHA standards, with limited exceptions. The OSHA rule does not explicitly state what PPE employers must provide, but it makes clear that employers cannot require employees to furnish their own PPE or pay for new PPE, and workers’ use of PPE they already own must be voluntary. Even when workers bring their own PPE, the employer is still responsible for ensuring that workers are safe.
New York’s executive order likewise makes it clear that businesses must provide face masks at their own expense and cannot require employees to pay for the masks.
Dedicated Service to Frontline New York Workers Risking Coronavirus Infection
If you or someone you love has contracted the coronavirus from their workplace or has otherwise been injured due to someone else’s negligence in New York, find out if you’re entitled to money damages for the harm you have endured by contacting the experienced and effective New York personal injury lawyers at the Bronx offices of the Kohn Law Firm for a free consultation, at 718-409-1200.