Third Circuit Rules on Payment under Bloodborne Pathogens Standard

The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (BPS), was issued by OSHA as a measure to protect employees who are at risk for exposure to viruses caused by bloodborne pathogens, such as HIV and Hepatitis.  For more background on what exactly the BPS requires employers to do, see our prior post on the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard.

In a recent decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court with jurisdiction over Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, the procedures requirements of BPS were put under the spotlight—with interesting results.

In Secretary of Labor v. Beverly Healthcare-Hillview, the Third Circuit was asked to interpret what it means to provide the necessary testing “at no cost to the employee.” In that case, two employees suffered needlestick injuries while at work. They sought treatment after the shift at the hospital’s designated medical facility. They subsequently returned to the facility for periodic treatment as prescribed. All of the treatment occurred during their non-working time. Beverly paid the cost of the treatment but did not compensate the employees for the non-working time they spent in treatment.

Beverly was cited by OSHA for failing to provide the testing and treatment “at no cost to the employee.” The citation was appealed to an administrative judge and, subsequently, to the Third Circuit. The appellate court held that the language of the applicable BPS provision relating to “at no cost” was ambiguous, which gave the Secretary of Labor the authority to interpret the provision. OSHA interpreted the language to include compensation for travel time and non-working time when the employees sought follow-up care. In short, the court’s decision means that employers must compensate employees for time spent and costs expended while seeking post-incident evaluation and treatment.

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