By Robert Yeakel, NGA Director of Government Relations
On Monday, NGA leadership met with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to discuss challenges confronted by the independent supermarket sector in fighting on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. NGA highlighted a variety of current issues that grocery retail has faced and asked OSHA to continue to work directly with our industry as further guidance and workplace safety information is provided by the agency. NGA made several requests from federal OSHA, focusing on mask enforcement, recordkeeping, and flexibilities that allow retailers to best protect the health and safety of their employees and customers.
What has been a frequent issue across the country, NGA communicated to OSHA the numerous confrontations faced by retail employees tasked with policing customer mask mandates. NGA has received numerous reports from its members that local and state mask mandates place the onus of enforcement on retailers, sometimes leading to altercations that can place employees at risk and create a workplace safety hazard. NGA requested that OSHA provide guidance placing the legal responsibility to enforce customer face mask mandates on local law enforcement and not retail employers or their employees.
NGA also highlighted the varying degrees of interpretation of OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements as they pertain to COVID-19. While federal OSHA provided guidance in May explaining that if an employee could have contracted the virus in a non-work-related manor, the case would not need to be logged or reported. However, we have seen inconsistent application of this guidance from various OSHA Area Offices across the country. NGA requested that clearer guidance be provided to make sure that grocers can focus on feeding their communities instead of unnecessary recordkeeping.
Finally, we stressed the need to eliminate instances where state requirements conflict with federal requirements, including California’s COVID-19 recordkeeping requirements (CAL/OSHA), to ensure consistency in how employers comply with workforce safety laws. NGA is a founding member of the Coalition for Uniformity in COVID-19 Recordkeeping as we work to advocate for consistency and uniformity in COVID-19 workplace safety guidelines across all US jurisdictions.
OSHA committed to working with NGA moving forward, and we offered our association and membership as a resource for the agency to communicate forthcoming standards and guidance. If you have any questions regarding COVID-19 workplace safety, please email NGA’s SVP of Government Relations & Counsel, Chris Jones, at email@example.com. For more information on OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance, please visit https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/.