OSHA issues updated guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace
The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued updates to its Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace. The guidance provides employers who are not specifically covered by OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (generally, non-health care employers) with recommendations for mitigating exposure and infection rates in the workplace and protecting those employees who are unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk.
The new guidelines are not vastly different from previous OSHA guidance, but now recognize the reduced risks to employees who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In most cases, fully vaccinated employees do not need to take special precautions to avoid the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace. Accordingly, the guidance focuses on steps employers can take to protect those employees who are unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk.
OSHA’s recommendations include:
- Granting paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.
- Instructing employees who are infected, unvaccinated and have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and those with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work.
- Develop non-punitive absence policies to encourage employees to stay home if they are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19.
- Businesses with fewer than 500 employees may be eligible for refundable tax credits under the ARP if they provide paid time off for sick and family leave to their employees due to COVID-19 related reasons. More information is available from the IRS.
- Implementing physical distancing and other protective measures for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in a communal work areas.
- Physically distance unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers from other unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk people (workers or customers).
- Limit the number of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk individuals in one place at a given time by implementing flexible work arrangements (remote work, flexible scheduling, virtual meetings, and staggered arrival/departure times).
- Provide transparent shields or other barriers to between unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers to reduce the spread of respiratory droplets.
- Provide face coverings for unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers at no cost.
- If applicable, provide PPE in accordance with relevant mandatory OSHA standards.
- Educate and train workers on COVID-19 workplace policies and procedures.
- Suggest that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings.
- Maintain ventilation systems.
- Perform routine cleaning and disinfection.
- Implementing HR and safety policies
- Implement anti-retaliation protections and reporting mechanisms for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19 related work hazards.
- Record and report work-related COVID-19 infections and deaths.
- Following other applicable mandatory OSHA standards
- All of OSHA’s standards applicable to protecting workers from infection (PPE, respiratory protection, sanitation, protection from bloodborne pathogens, employee access to medical and exposure records) are still in effect.
- Health care workplaces should refer to the mandatory OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard for further compliance requirements.
As a reminder, OSHA’s updated guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. OSHA’s recommendations are advisory in nature and are intended to assist employers in recognizing and abating hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm as part of their obligation to provide a safe and healthful workplace.