Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has fielded thousands of complaints related to employee safety in the workplace and the spread of the virus. Once President Biden took office, the administration issued Executive Order 13999, giving OSHA until March 15 to determine whether temporary emergency workplace safety standards were necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. While the March 15 deadline has come and gone without the issuance of the standards, the agency has continued to work on the standards, and they are continuing to move through the regulatory process.
On April 26, 2021, OSHA sent its anticipated COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. At this stage, the text of the regulation is not publicly available, so it is unknown what provisions are in the ETS. It is also unknown when OMB will complete its review. While OMB can spend as little or as much time as it wants on its review, reports suggest the review period will be approximately two weeks. The ETS will take effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register. Upon publication, the ETS will stay in effect for six months or until a permanent standard is adopted following the usual rulemaking procedures.
Next Steps for Employers
While the exact content of the ETS is still unknown, employers in states that have relaxed or eliminated COVID-19 rules should prepare to quickly comply with new regulations on masks, social distancing, cleaning and disinfection, and other safety measures. Employers in states or localities that have maintained robust safety precautions will be faced with ensuring compliance with an additional layer of government regulation.
HR Works will continue to monitor this legislation and provide updates as new information becomes available.