In response to the recent surge of COVID-19 cases across the country, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued revised COVID-19 guidance to help employers navigate the pandemic.

Vaccinated employees

OSHA now recommends, among other things, that workers who are fully vaccinated take the following measures to reduce the risk of becoming infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission;
  • Wear a mask regardless of level of transmission, particularly if individuals are at risk or have someone in their household who is at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated; and
  • Get tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.

employee wearing mask covid-19 guidance

This guidance mirrors recent recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By way of background, individuals are considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19 two weeks or more after the second dose in a two-dose series (such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines) or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine (such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine).

Unvaccinated employees

The guidance also encourages individuals to get vaccinated and makes recommendations for employers to facilitate their employees getting vaccinated. For example, OSHA recommends that employers:

  • Provide paid time off to workers for the time it takes for them to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects;
  • Work with local public health authorities to provide vaccinations for unvaccinated workers in the workplace; and
  • 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.

Although OSHA guidance does not rise to the level of a binding OSHA safety regulation, it can be the basis for OSHA citations for alleged unsafe work practices under OSHA’s General Duty clause. Employers are well advised to follow OSHA guidance for reducing legal exposure and as a best practice to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, and to comply with any state and local regulations that may exceed OSHA guidance.

For a discussion of the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard regulating employers in the health care industry, review our recent Employer Law Report post.