OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

June 15, 2022

Brian Dodge, President
Retail Industry Leaders Association
99 M Street SE
Washington, DC 20003

Dear Mr. Dodge:

Thank you for your letter regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the retail industry and its efforts to mitigate hazards to protect the safety and health of workers. The Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) share your goal of ensuring that employees in the retail industry are protected from COVID-19. Therefore, OSHA will continue to enforce applicable OSHA standards to protect workers and offer guidance to employers and employees to help keep America's workplaces safe during this pandemic.

All employers must comply with any applicable mandatory safety and health standards and regulations issued and enforced either by OSHA or by an OSHA-approved state plan. There are a number of OSHA standards the agency uses to address hazards associated with workplace exposures to COVID-19. In general industry, for example, requirements applicable to infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, may include Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness (29 CFR § 1904), General Requirements-Personal Protective Equipment (29 CFR § 1910.132), Respiratory Protection (29 CFR § 1910.134), Sanitation (29 CFR § 1910.141), Specification for Accident Prevention Signs and Tags (29 CFR § 1910.145), and Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records (29 CFR § 1910.1020). The applicability of OSHA requirements depends on the specific facts and findings of each inspection. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide their workers with a safe and healthful workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

As you explain in your letter, employers should refer to guidance from OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and state and local orders on prevention strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Employers who modify their COVID-19 plans based on state and local guidance should still use layered prevention strategies to protect at-risk workers. Layered prevention strategies are a combination of engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE appropriate for retail workers, depending on the results of their employers' hazard and risk assessments. In accordance with agency enforcement procedures, before citations are issued, OSHA compliance safety and health officers evaluate all relevant facts, including any measures taken by the employer to protect workers, and efforts to comply with applicable standards.

Through the duration of this pandemic, OSHA will continue to conduct enforcement investigations to ensure that employers are meeting their obligations under Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act and complying with applicable OSHA requirements to control the spread of COVID-19. However, applicable penalty reductions may apply based on an employers' good faith, size, and history. See OSHA, Field Operations Manual - Chapter 6 | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (osha.gov)

Information regarding OSHA's guidance in protecting workers in the retail industry from COVID-19 is available on the agency's website at www.osha.gov/coronavirus. OSHA continues to update the webpage as new information about the virus becomes available. In addition, OSHA has a variety of resources to help small retail businesses, including:

  • OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program offers no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small- and medium-sized businesses in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. On-Site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice for compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing and improving safety and health programs. Consultation programs around the country are available to provide on-site and remote assistance to help small businesses implement measures to protect their workers from contracting COVID-19.
  • Compliance Assistance Specialists (CASs) in OSHA's regional and area offices serve as a resource to a variety of groups, including small businesses and other employers. CASs not only answer questions about complying with OSHA's requirements and improving workplace safety but conduct regular outreach to local stakeholders. In addition to sharing updated information and responding to questions through email and other means, CASs have and will continue to coordinate and participate in virtual meetings, webinars, and other events to discuss COVID-19 workplace guidelines and policies.

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. I hope you find this information helpful. If you have additional questions, please contact the OSHA Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.


Douglas L. Parker