The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has issued two citations against AMA Health Holdings LLC, for violating an OSHA emergency COVID standard published in June at its Seaside Guest Services transitional housing facility. Like OSHA’s July 23rd $273,064.00 citation of Lakewood Resource and Referral Center Inc. (“CHEMED”), the AMA Holdings citations and proposed penalties illustrate the risks health industry and other employers face for failing to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols.
The AMA Holdings citations stem from a complaint-driven OSHA investigation at the Seaside Guest Services’ residential housing facility in Trenton, New Jersey where 11 employees and 28 residents tested positive for the coronavirus by late March found numerous violations.
The residential facility provides transitional housing for people attending area behavioral-health programs and those who have completed some level of addiction treatment.
In June OSHA issued an emergency temporary standard to protect healthcare workers from contracting coronavirus. In March, OSHA launched a national emphasis program focusing enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus. The program also prioritizes employers who retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions, or for exercising other rights protected by federal law.
According to OSHA, its investigation of a complaint revealed that while Seaside Guest Services’ continuity of operations plan required that residents with coronavirus be isolated and workers notified, neither happened. Additionally, OSHA inspectors determined the facility provided protective masks to its employees, but did not enforce their use. Seaside also failed to enforce social distancing despite posting signs in its four housing units.
OSHA cited the facility’s operator, AMA Health Holdings LLC, with two citations for failing to develop and implement effective measures to mitigate the spread of the virus and not recording each work-related illness. The agency proposed $10,923 in penalties.
AMA Health Holdings LLC has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
The AMA Holdings OSHA actions demonstrate OSHA’s commitment to investigate complaints of violations is its COVID emergency standards and fine employers that violate them.
The citations against AMA Health Holdings follow OSHA’s earlier citation of CHEMED for retaliating against employees for questioning the adequacy of COVID safety at the dental practice where they worked.
In the face of these enforcement actions, all employers should take care to ensure their ability to demonstrate and defend their operation’s compliance with all applicable emergency COVID safety standards and other safety requirements here.
As illustrated by the recently issued Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) nursing home vaccination mandate announced last week, OSHA requirements evolve are likely to evolve rapidly in response to changing CDC guidance. Consequently, employers should remain vigilant for changing requirements and respond accordingly.
Additionally, employers should keep in mind that improperly handled employee questions or statements of concern about the adequacy of workplace COVID -19 safeguards could create retaliation or whistleblower risks. Accordingly, employers should use care to investigate and respond carefully to these concerns.
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About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.
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