On June 10, 2021, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) revised its general COVID-19 guidance applicable to all employers. At the same time, OSHA issued a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard setting out extensive requirements for employers in the health care sector. For more details on the health care emergency temporary standard, see this blog post.
Fully vaccinated employees
Previously, OSHA guidance stated all employees should be required to wear masks and comply with COVID-19 safety measures, including social distancing, regardless of vaccination status. On June 10, OSHA updated its guidance to align more closely with updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which provides that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks or practice social distancing except where required by federal, state or local law or rules. OSHA’s guidance makes clear that in workplaces where all employees are vaccinated, most employers no longer need to take steps to protect their employees from COVID-19 exposure, except where required by federal, state or local law (including health care settings covered by OSHA’s emergency temporary standard mentioned above).
Unvaccinated and at-risk employees
The guidance makes clear employers should continue to take steps to protect their unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees, such as those who have a compromised immune system and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, OSHA recommends employers:
- Provide paid time off for employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine
- Instruct employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, unvaccinated employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 and all employees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work
- Implement social distancing for unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees in all communal areas
- Provide unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees with face coverings or surgical masks at no cost
- Educate and train employees on the employer’s COVID-19 policies
- Encourage unvaccinated customers, visitors or guests entering the workplace to wear face coverings
- Maintain and improve ventilation systems
- Routinely clean and disinfect the workplace
- Record work-related COVID-19 infections and report deaths
- Implement protections from retaliation and set up an anonymous process for employees to voice concerns about COVID-19
- Follow all applicable OSHA standards.
Safety measures for high-risk workplaces with mixed vaccination status
OSHA also suggests several measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in high-risk workplaces with mixed vaccination status employees. Examples of high-risk workplaces include manufacturing, meat and poultry processing, high-volume retail and grocery, and seafood processing facilities. In high-risk workplaces where there are unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees, OSHA recommends:
- Staggering break times or providing temporary break areas and restrooms to avoid large groups of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees gathering during breaks
- Staggering employees’ arrival and departure times to avoid large groups of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees gathering in the parking lot, locker rooms or near time clocks
- Providing visual cues, such as floor markings as a reminder to practice social distancing
- Improving ventilation systems
The updated OSHA guidance aligns more closely with the CDC’s guidance that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks or practice social distancing except under limited circumstances. However, although employers generally no longer need to take steps to protect their fully vaccinated employees, employers should ensure they continue to implement procedures to protect their unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees from COVID-19 exposure. Employers must also keep track of any state or local regulations or guidelines in areas where they operate. To the extent state or local requirements are more stringent than OSHA guidance, the state or local rules control.