Letter to OR-OSHA and Legislature on Draft OR-OSHA COVID 19 Workplace Rules

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September 3, 2020

Dear Administrator Michael Wood, Senators Burdick & Thatcher  and Representatives Doherty and Neron,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback on OR-OSHA’s Draft COVID-19 Standard.

The Tigard Chamber of Commerce represents close to 300 member businesses providing over 15,000 jobs who are committed to growing business opportunities and providing living-wage jobs for families in our community.  We are writing today to express our concerns about OR-OSHA’s Draft COVID-19 Standard.

Oregon employers have been saddled with an incredible burden. Many businesses faced closures in 2020 or saw operations significantly curtailed in order to slow the spread of the virus. Employers also have been tasked with complying with Governor’s Orders and ever-evolving guidelines for businesses from the Oregon Health Authority. We’ve worked hard to comply because we wanted to protect our customers and employees, but each of these regulations comes at a cost, and some businesses weren’t able to weather the economic storm created by this.

Now, OR-OSHA is moving forward with costly new workplace standards and a new paid leave mandate that will apply to all public and private employers. We are all trying to do our best, but some of the proposals put forward by OR-OSHA are concerning. Please make the following changes to your temporary COVID-19 Standard before you finalize to make it workable.

First, OR-OSHA must remove the requirement that employers sanitize all high-touch surfaces and shared equipment between every use. That mandate alone will require all employers to hire or repurpose employees to just follow other employees around and clean surfaces after one touch. It also will require significant investment in sanitation supplies above and beyond what we have currently purchased. OR-OSHA must be reasonable; this is clearly not.

Second, I’m concerned that OR-OSHA is creating standards that conflict with existing public health guidelines. Local businesses already have spent a lot of money to create a safe work space for their employees and customers. OR-OSHA’s mask requirements should align with the Governor’s requirements and exceptions for facial coverings. Please also simplify language related to social distancing; there should be one clear standard. It’ll be tough for small businesses to navigate these rules; they are regulatory relief right now, not additional administrative hurdles.

Third, OR-OSHA must eliminate the new paid leave mandate that is called “Medical Removal.” The agency doesn’t have the authority to expand an existing Fed-OSHA program that is used in the rare instances of workplace chemical exposure in order to create a new 2-week paid leave benefit for all employees during COVID-19. And employees who were exposed to COVID-19 outside of work will receive this benefit (paid for by employers), regardless of whether they complied with the Governor’s Orders! This is unfair to employers who are trying to do the right thing and will harm local businesses who are already struggling. It also ignores significant federal and state benefits that have been authorized to support employees who need to quarantine. Businesses are closing their doors every day; please don’t make Oregon an impossible place for local businesses to operate.

Finally, we ask the agency to give businesses a minimum of 90-days before enforcement kicks in. Employers will face OR-OSHA penalties immediately and could face BOLI penalties and costly lawsuits if OR-OSHA pursues the ill-advised paid leave mandate. Please give employers time to figure out how to interpret and comply with these rules before starting enforcement.

We are all doing our best. Please do not add a costly burden to employers at a time when small businesses can least afford it.

Thank you for listening to our concerns.

Sincerely,

Debi Mollahan

CEO, Tigard Chamber

 

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