- February 1, 2021
On January 29, 2021, pursuant to President Biden's executive order directing the agency to release clear guidance for employers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) updated its guidance related to COVID-19 and the workplace. The new guidance provides a list of practices that OSHA recommends in order for employers to prevent the spread of the virus. Many of the well-known practices remain in place. Notably, however, as vaccines are being rolled out across the county, OSHA’s updated guidance recommends that employers require vaccinated employees to follow the same protocols as non-vaccinated employees.
In particular, OSHA recommends that vaccinated workers continue to wear face coverings and practice physical distancing. OSHA bases this guidance on the fact that there is no evidence at this time that COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus from person-to-person. According to OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) explains that experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to loosen recommendations for those who have been vaccinated.
The guidance also recommends that employers: (i) conduct a hazard assessment; (ii) provide employees with information about the benefits and safety of vaccinations and ensure those who are eligible can receive the vaccine at no cost; (iii) provide guidance on screening and testing; (iv) assign a workplace coordinator responsive for COVID-19 issues; (v) ensure their absence policies are "non-punitive" for workers who need to stay home or quarantine after a potential exposure, including by providing paid sick leave and allowing for telework when possible; and (vi) take steps to ensure workers are not retaliated against if they raise concerns about the safety of their workplace. OSHA also recommends employers set up an anonymous process for workers to share any concerns they might have about COVID-19 safety.
The guidance is not mandatory and creates no new legal obligations, but it could provide a preview of ultimately implemented standards. Patricia Smith, Senior Counsel to the Secretary of Labor, stated, "[t]he recommendations in OSHA's updated guidance will help us defeat the virus, strengthen our economy and bring an end to the staggering human and economic toll the coronavirus has taken on our nation."
The complete guidance can be found here