Are You Following OSHA’s New COVID-19 Guidelines?
As the Delta variant proliferates and new cases of COVID-19 are on the rise, you may wonder how to best protect your employees and your company. In answer to that question, on August 13, 2021, OSHA issued revised guidance to employers. If you have not reviewed that new information yet, the key points are listed below.
In its most straightforward language thus far, OSHA has advised employers to “consider adopting policies that require workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing—in addition to mask-wearing and physical distancing—if they remain unvaccinated.” While this does not insist that you enforce a mandate, it might encourage you to require or strongly suggest vaccines for your employees. The recent FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could help convince workers as well.
Per a U.S. Department of Labor statement: “OSHA continues to emphasize vaccination as the optimal step to protect workers and encourages employers to engage with workers and their representatives to implement multi-layered approaches to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers from the coronavirus.”
If you do adopt a mandate for your company, remember to accommodate the following:
- any new (or proposed) state laws restricting an employer’s ability to require vaccination
- any requests based upon individual disabilities
- any requests based upon religious beliefs
- any other protected reasons that could prevent an employee from getting the vaccine
Masking and Social Distancing
In addition to the vaccination suggestion, the revised guidance follows recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice regarding masking and distancing based on vaccinated status.
- Fully vaccinated workers in high-risk areas should wear masks in public indoor settings to protect unvaccinated workers.
- Fully vaccinated workers who are exposed to people with COVID-19 should wear masks for up to 14 days; exceptions can be made if they test negative for COVID-19 at least three to five days after that exposure.
- Unvaccinated workers must continue to mask and practice physically distancing from others.
- Employers should consider requiring unvaccinated workers to undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
As before, OSHA reminds all employers to continue the following practices:
- Encouraging employees to get vaccinated and supporting those efforts
- Instructing workers infected by or exposed to the coronavirus to stay home from work and quarantine
- Providing masks or other face coverings for at-risk or unvaccinated workers
- Enforcing physical distancing for at-risk and unvaccinated workers
- Educating and training workers on COVID-19 procedures and policies in languages they can understand
- Instructing unvaccinated guests to wear face coverings in public-facing workplaces
- Requiring all guests in high-risk areas to wear face coverings in public indoor settings
- Performing regular cleaning and disinfection of facilities
- Maintaining ventilation systems
- Recording and reporting applicable COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths
- Implementing protection from retaliation and considering a process for anonymously voicing concerns about COVID-19
Navigating the COVID-19 landscape continues to be challenging for everyone, especially those in environments where employees disagree about the merits of vaccines and masks. Understand that you are within your legal rights to set policies and expectations for your employees. Just be sure that you treat all your workers fairly and equally.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.