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New OSHA Guidance Is Harbinger of More to Come

2/3/21

By: Michael Hill

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued new guidance to employers on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Here are the main takeaways:

  • Employers should continue making employees wear masks even if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 because it is not yet know whether vaccinated individuals still may transmit the virus.
  • Employers should make sure their employees understand their rights to a safe and healthy work environment and take steps to prevent employees from being retaliated against for raising concerns about workplace safety.
  • Employers should provide employees with information about the benefits and safety of vaccinations and make a COVID-19 vaccine available to eligible employees at no cost.
  • Employers should make sure their absence policies are “non-punitive” so that employees are not discouraged from staying home if sick or if they have been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Employers should minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers by permitting them to telework or work in an area isolated from others, when possible; permitting the use of paid sick leave, if available; and considering implementing paid leave policies for all employees.

This new guidance is not a standard or regulation and does not have the force of law. OSHA states the guidance is “advisory in nature” and “creates no new legal obligations,” but existing federal law generally requires employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

New OSHA regulations, however, are expected to come over the horizon soon. President Biden has instructed OSHA to consider issuing emergency temporary standards for COVID-19, “including with respect to masks in the workplace,” by March 15, 2021. If implemented, such emergency temporary standards would be legal requirements and not mere recommendations. The President also directed OSHA to review its enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 to identify “any short-, medium-, and long-term changes that could be made to better protect workers and ensure equity in enforcement.”

We will continue to monitor employment-related regulations and guidance and update this blog as developments arise.

For more information, please contact Michael Hill at [email protected].