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Emerging concerns

  • States are lifting restrictions before it is safe to do so, causing concern over workplace exposures. New York Times, March 10, 2021.
  • Indoor dining and the expiration of mask mandates are associated with increasing daily case and death growth rates. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 12, 2021.
  • Restaurants, gyms, cafes and other crowded indoor venues accounted for 8 in 10 new infections in the early months of the U.S. coronavirus epidemic. New York Times, November 10, 2020.
  • Requiring vaccination for employees and customers presents an ethical dilemma for employers. New York Times, December 14, 2020.
  • Screening and monitoring equipment is faulty and inaccurate. Washington Post, May 24, 2020.
  • Safety protocols are unable to prevent an increasing number of cases at food processing plants. Washington Post, June 8, 2020.

Ethical principles

  • Individuals should not be expected to take on risky work assignments during an infectious disease outbreak unless they are provided with the training, tools, and resources necessary to minimize the risks to the extent reasonably possible. WHO Ethics in an Outbreak
  • Any professional or employment-based obligation to assume personal risk is contingent upon society’s fulfillment of its reciprocal obligations to workers. If the reciprocal obligations are not met, frontline workers cannot legitimately be expected to assume a significant risk of harm to themselves and their families. WHO Ethics in an Outbreak
  • Ensure that reasonable alternative options are considered and evaluated, and that final public health policies and plans are designed to most effectively accomplish stated goals while minimizing the potential for harm. APHA Code of Ethics, 4.5.9.
  • Ensure that public health policies and plans are sensitive to race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and other unique characteristics of individuals affected by the policies or plans. APHA Code of Ethics 4.5.11.

Recommendations and Practices

  • OSHA’s March 2021 COVID-19 National Emphasis Program aims to increase inspection and enforcement of COVID-19 protocols in highest risk industries. National Law Review
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance permits employers to require vaccination against COVID-19, though there are exceptions to this rule. NJ.com
  • Business operation decisions should be based on the level of disease transmission in the community and readiness to protect the safety and health of employees and customers. Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019, CDC
  • Follow federal and state, local, tribal, and/or territorial recommendations regarding the development of contingency plans for situations that may arise as a result of outbreaks. Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, OSHA
  • Businesses are legally authorized to deny entry to individuals not wearing masks or face coverings in New York. State of New York
  • Austin continues to require face masks despite the expiration of Texas’ statewide mask mandate. KHOU

Emerging concerns

  • SARS-CoV-2 transmission primarily occurs through the air, but OSHA has not set air standards for workplaces. New York Times, February 17, 2021.
  • Many essential workers express COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. National Public Radio, January 31, 2021.
  • The tension between worker safety and ensuring the national food supply.  Washington Post, June 8, 2020.
  • Vacant office spaces may pose unanticipated health risks to workers. New York Times, August 27, 2020.

Ethical principles

  • Policies and procedures should be based on sound scientific evidence or on the best evidence available. In addition, the policy’s measures should reflect the severity of the situation while remaining as minimally invasive as possible. Indiana University
  • Frontline workers should not be expected to expose themselves to risks that are disproportionate to the public health benefits their efforts are likely to achieve. WHO Ethics in an Outbreak

Recommendations and Practices

Emerging concerns

  • Infection numbers are not being disclosed at worksites. Washington Post, May 12, 2020; New York Times, May 25, 2020; Newsy, May 29, 2020; New York Times, March 15, 2021.
  • Corporate policies are not being consistently implemented, communicated, or enforced at some worksites. New York Times, April 2, 2020.
  • Company communications are provided only in English. NBC News, April 23, 2020.

Ethical principles

Recommendations and Practices

Page last updated April 10, 2021.