Chris Morehead Shares Strategies for Enforcing Pandemic Safety Rules

Tonkon Torp’s Labor & Employment Practice Group continued its coffee break webinar series with a July 23 program featuring attorney Chris Morehead. The topic focused on strategies to enforce pandemic workplace safety policies in a fair and consistent manner.

A recording of the webinar is available below. Webinar viewers are encouraged to follow up directly to ask questions not addressed during the program.

Noting that Oregon OSHA (OR-OSHA) will release temporary rules addressing COVID-19 in the coming months, and that OR-OSHA enforcement may get stricter as Oregon case numbers rise, Chris shared common COVID-19 safety rules that employers should consider implementing to keep their workplace safe and mitigate their risk of legal claims. These include complying with Executive Orders and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) sector-specific requirements, adopting recommendations issued by OHA, CDC, and OSHA, and implementing policies that clearly explain workplace rules and enforcement measures related to social distancing, hygiene, quarantine procedures, and face coverings.

Chris shared several best practices for rule enforcement, noting that one of the most effective ways to ensure that employees know the rules of the road is to deliver clear and repetitive communication about policies, updates stemming from new guidance, enforcement, and consequences for non-compliance. He noted that clarity on the rules and consistent enforcement is important to avoid employment claims later on, as is reminding employees that the rules are in place out of requirement, not inconvenience.

During a segment on some of the potential pitfalls related to policy enforcement, Chris said that one of the keys to navigating challenges to the face covering requirement is to determine whether employees may require reasonable accommodations under the ADA (for disabilities) or Title VII (for religious beliefs). Chris discussed how the interactive process may – and likely must – be utilized in such circumstances. He also discussed strategies for handling whistleblower retaliation claims and common law wrongful discharge claims. Chris reinforced that documentation, clear expectations, and consistent enforcement of safety rules can go a long way to help an employer avoid discrimination lawsuits stemming from claims of unequal pandemic rule enforcement.

For more information to assist your company during the coronavirus pandemic, consult our COVID-19 Business Resource page, which is continually refreshed with news, alerts, events, and videos that address a broad range of corporate topics.

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