OSHA Issues New COVID-19 Regulations and Guidelines for Employers

Jul 1, 2021

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued new emergency regulations and guidelines regarding COVID-19. The latest updates include a mix of mandatory requirements and other recommended best practices. Here is a brief explanation of the newest update and a breakdown of the employers affected.

Who it Covers

Some of the updated regulations are Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), which must be followed by specified covered employers. In this case, the ETS apply only to employers in the healthcare industry.

The regulations took effect immediately, and covered employers must comply with most provisions by July 6, 2021. The deadline to comply with regulations requiring the installment of physical barriers, ventilation improvements, and employee training is July 21, 2021. OSHA released this flow chart to help determine if the updated standards apply to your business.

Healthcare Industry Requirements

OSHA’s new coronavirus ETS obligate healthcare employers to take a range of new precautions. The new requirements include:

  • Providing reasonable time and paid leave for vaccinations and vaccine side effects.
  • Establishing a COVID-19 log of all employee instances of COVID-19 without regard to occupational exposure, and following requirements for making these records available to employees/representatives.
  • Developing and implementing a COVID-19 plan and appointing a designated safety coordinator.
  • Providing and ensuring each employee wears appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Implementing new screening protocols by which employees must be screened for COVID-19 each day.

For a full listing of the requirements included in the ETS, visit the OSHA website. Healthcare employers may review the OSHA summary of the ETS here.

Other General Guidelines

In addition to the updated requirements for the healthcare industry, OSHA also released new guidelines it recommends all other employers follow. These guidelines are meant to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk employees. Vaccinated individuals can generally resume working without wearing masks or observing social distancing.

The guidelines for employers of unvaccinated and other at-risk employees include:

  • Granting paid time off for employees to get vaccinated. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees may also be eligible for a tax credit if they choose to comply with this recommendation.
  • Instruct workers who are infected, workers who are unvaccinated and who have been in contact with an infected person, and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work. Employees who are vaccinated should also be mindful of any COVID-19 symptoms and take time off work should they arise.
  • Implement physical distancing for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in all communal work areas. Keeping a distance of six feet or more from other unvaccinated or at-risk employees can help those employees stay safe. Employers can also help by limiting the number of unvaccinated and/or at-risk employees who are in the same place at the same time. Finally, transparent shields and other physical barriers can separate unvaccinated and at-risk workers from others.
  • Provide unvaccinated and at-risk workers with masks or other face coverings. Remind them that masks should cover their nose, mouth, and chin.
  • Educate and train workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures. Use formats and language that are easy to understand.
  • Suggest that unvaccinated customers or other guests wear masks. Posting a notice on the door of your establishment will usually suffice.
  • Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths. This is required by a different OSHA rule but is worth repeating. Employers are required to record work-related cases of COVID-19 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).

While there is no duty for employers to follow the latest guidelines – many of which employers have been following for months under state or local mandates – it’s important to note that OSHA imposes a general duty on employers to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Although OSHA does not require that employers follow these new guidelines, employers who choose to do so may lessen the risk that OSHA cites the employer for violation of the “general duty” clause in the event of a COVID-19 workplace infection.

High-Risk Workplace Guidelines

Lastly, OSHA provided new guidelines for employers in “high-risk workplaces” such as manufacturing, meat and poultry processing, seafood processing, and high-volume retail and grocery. In places like this, OSHA recommends taking some additional precautions including:

  • Staggering breaktimes, arrivals, and departures to avoid congregations of unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk employees.
  • Provide visual cues to remind employees and customers to maintain physical distancing, and ensure distancing is observed in tight spaces like food processing or assembly lines.
  • Improve ventilation in the workplace.

Implementing some of OSHA’s new policies may involve making challenging managerial decisions regarding vaccine inquiries or requirements. If you have any questions regarding your organization’s current coronavirus policies, how OSHA’s updated regulations and guidance applies to you, or how to create an effective vaccination policy, please reach out to any KWW attorney. As always, your workplace is our priority.

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