On August 13th the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued updated guidance revising its June 2021 guidance applicable to non-healthcare workplaces that follows the updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coronavirus guidance issued last month. This updated guidance is in direct response to the surge of delta variant cases across the country and is intended to help employers and workers identify current COVID-19 risks for unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers.
As most employers are aware by now, the CDC updated its recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals to reduce their risk of becoming infected with the delta variant and potentially spreading it to others. The CDC’s guidance addresses mask wearing in public indoor settings; choosing to wear masks regardless of the potential level of transmission; and revised testing recommendations for known exposures.
In its revised guidance, OSHA essentially adopts analogous recommendations for employers. To follow this guidance, you should implement multi-layered interventions to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In light of OSHA’s recent guidance, it is clear the agency is focused at facilitating higher vaccination rates.
Employers should implement methods to facilitate and encourage employee vaccination. OSHA suggests employers consider adopting policies requiring workers to get vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing – in addition to mask wearing and physical distancing – if they remain unvaccinated. OSHA recommends providing employees with paid time off to get vaccinated and paid time off to recover from any side effects of the vaccine. Employers are also encouraged to work with local public health authorities to provide vaccinations in the workplace. In our opinion, a mandatory vaccine policy could obviate some of the other recommendations discussed below.
Employers should instruct infected workers, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with a positive COVID-19 case, and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work. As recommended by the CDC, fully vaccinated individuals who have a known COVID-19 exposure should get tested three to five days after the exposure event and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days (or until they receive a negative test result). Individuals who are not fully vaccinated should be tested immediately, and if negative, tested again in five to seven days after their last exposure (or immediately if symptoms develop).
Employers should implement physical distancing in all common areas where unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers may be present. According to OSHA, a “key way” to protect workers is to require physical distancing in the workplace – generally this means at least six feet. Essentially, OSHA recommends a return to many of the protocols in place pre-vaccine: social distancing, flexible schedules, allowing remote/telework, rotating/staggering shifts, deliver services remotely (e.g., phone, video, or web), proper ventilation, transparent shields, etc.
OSHA’s guidance mirrors that of the CDC by recommending even fully vaccinated individuals wear masks in public indoor settings. Unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE, employers should provide workers no-cost face coverings or surgical masks as appropriate. Workers who are outdoors may opt not to wear face coverings unless they are at risk. If an employer determines PPE is necessary to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers from exposure to COVID-19, the employer must provide PPE per the relevant OSHA PPE standards.
Employers should educate and train workers on their COVID-19 policies and procedures. Employers should train managers on how to implement their COVID-19 policies and about basic facts concerning COVID-19. This training should be communicated clearly, frequently, and using multiple methods to promote a safe and healthy workplace.
Employers should suggest or require unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests to wear face coverings. All customers, visitors, or guests should wear face coverings in public, indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. This could include posting a notice or otherwise suggesting or requiring individuals to wear face coverings. We recommend that employers require face coverings for all customers, visitors or guests to avoid having to inquire about vaccination status or risk that individuals will provide inaccurate information.
Employers must record and report workplace COVID-19 infections and deaths: Under OSHA’s record-keeping standard, employers are required to record work-related cases of COVID-19 illness on OSHA’s Form 300 logs if the following requirements are met: (1) the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19; (2) the case is work-related; and (3) the case involves one or more relevant recording criteria (e.g., medical treatment, days away from work). Likewise, employers must follow the requirements when reporting work-related COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations.
Employers should implement protections from retaliation and set up anonymous methods for workers to raise concerns about COVID-19-related hazards. Employers should ensure workers know who to contact with questions and/or concerns about workplace safety and health, and that there are prohibitions against retaliation for raising workplace safety and health concerns.
Like the CDC’s revised guidance, OSHA’s updated guidance encourages policies and practices to maximize vaccination rates. A mandatory vaccine policy and a fully vaccinated workforce, make the revised guidelines simpler and easier to navigate. OSHA’s revised guidance also reminds employers to follow all other applicable mandatory OSHA standards.
Schwartz Rollins will continue to monitor the rules and government guidance regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Our firm has an inventory of sample policies and public accommodations requests that can be tailored to your business, including a Mandatory Vaccination Policy, Non-mandatory Vaccination Policy, Accommodation Procedure for COVID-19 Vaccine, and requests for exemption based on medical or religious reasons. If you need our assistance in crafting a legally complaint policy, we are here to assist you. Please contact one of our attorneys at Schwartz Rollins, or our legal assistant, Vicki Perry at 404.844.4130.