What Employers Need to Know as Heat Hits This Week

New heat, smoke rules went into effect June 15 — and Oregon’s paid sick-leave law has been updated to allow time off during heat emergencies.

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The temperature soared to 99 degrees Fahrenheit Monday at the Portland Airport, and National Weather Service projections say they’re likely to hover above 90 most days this week — with most models predicting high temperatures throughout the state through at least Sunday.

It’s not this summer’s first heat wave in the Willamette Valley, and projections are nowhere near as high as those during last year’s heat-dome event, which killed 69 Oregonians and triggered more than 117 complaints to the Oregon Occupational Safety & Health Administration. But the high temperatures and the length of the heat wave may prove an early test of new safety rules adopted earlier this year.

Those rules are based on an earlier set of guidelines adopted on an emergency basis in response to Gov. Kate Brown’s Executive Order 20-04, which mandated that Oregon OSHA develop standards to protect Oregon workers from heat and smoke in the workplace. They became effective June 15. (Workers’ rights advocates are pushing for similar rules to be adopted on a national level; a coalition of business groups is challenging the rules in federal court.)

Oregon Business spoke to Paul Cirner, an associate attorney at Ogletree Deakins, about what employers should know about the new rules during this week’s heat wave. Cirner practices employment law in Oregon, Washington and New York, and works with employers to help them comply with the law. Here’s what he says employers need to know about the new rules:

  • Employers need to have a heat-safety plan. When temperatures are 80 or higher, employers need to provide water and access to shade in order to comply with the rules. When they exceed 90 degrees, things get more complicated, Cirner says. The requirements include a rest-break schedule that ensures employees are taking rest breaks at certain intervals — and a heat-illness prevention plan to ensure that workers know where shade will be, where water will be and how to communicate if they start feeling ill.
  • Employers who have questions about the new rules should consult Oregon OSHA — but farmers may need to call a lawyer. Cirner recommends employers become familiar with the guidelines on the state agency’s website. “They have a fact sheet that really summarizes it quickly, for people who are trying to comply with the rule this week in particular. And for those in the agricultural industry, there’s a separate set of rules that are a lot more stringent, so they might want to take a closer look at those or reach out to an attorney to get some advice.”
  • Employees should contact Oregon OSHA if their employers are not complying with the new rules — and the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries if they experience retaliation. The latter agency enforces provisions that prohibit employers from retaliating against those who complain about safety issues, Cirner says.
    Employees can use protected sick time if working in hot temperatures would make them sick. Oregon’s sick-leave law — which offers paid sick time to employees at companies that employ 10 or more people and protected sick time to all Oregon workers — was recently updated to allow workers to take paid sick leave if their local jurisdiction has declared a health emergency. (Portland and Multnomah County declared states of emergency Monday, followed by the state.) “Maybe you’re not necessarily sick, but if going into work and being exposed to heat could cause an illness, you might be able to take paid sick leave, which is something that I think a lot of people aren’t necessarily aware of because it was a recent update.”

Multnomah County and other jurisdictions throughout the state will be operating cooling centers throughout the week.