In accordance with Executive Order 13999, on March 12, the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA issued its National Emphasis Program—Coronavirus Disease 2019, which focuses OSHA enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting COVID-19. In addition, the program prioritizes employers that retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law.

The DOL press release states, “NEP inspections will enhance the agency’s previous coronavirus enforcement efforts and will include some follow-up inspections of worksites inspected in 2020. The program’s focused strategy ensures abatement and includes monitoring the effectiveness of OSHA’s enforcement and guidance efforts. The program will remain in effect for up to one year from its issuance date, though OSHA has the flexibility to amend or cancel the program as the pandemic subsides.”

The release further states, “OSHA state plans have adopted varying requirements to protect employees from coronavirus and OSHA knows many of them have implemented enforcement programs similar to this NEP. While it does not require it, OSHA strongly encourages the rest to adopt this NEP. State plans must notify federal OSHA of their intention to adopt the NEP within 60 days after its issuance.”

In addition to the NEP, OSHA also updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan for COVID-19, which provides new instructions and guidance to area offices and compliance safety and health officers for handling COVID-19-related complaints, referrals and severe illness reports.

According to the DOL release, “OSHA will only use remote-only inspections if the agency determines that on-site inspections cannot be performed safely. On March 18, 2021, OSHA will rescind the May 26, 2020, memorandum on this topic and this new guidance will go into and remain in effect until further notice.”

Learn more about the National Emphasis Program in this Littler article.