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OSHA Updates Guidance for Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace

On June 10, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. This guidance apples to all employers not covered by OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS). “This guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations,” OSHA said. “It contains recommendations, as well as descriptions of existing mandatory OSHA standards.” The agency said its guidelines 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. The updated guidance focuses on protections for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk employees. In this updated guidance, OSHA has acknowledged that non-healthcare employers can follow the CDC’s guidance for fully vaccinated people unless otherwise required by federal, state or local laws.

OSHA provides that most employers no longer need to take steps to protect their workers from COVID-19 exposure in any workplace or well-defined portions of a workplace where all employees are fully vaccinated. The new guidance updates the roles of employers and workers in responding to COVID-19 for those that are at-risk or unvaccinated. The updated guidance addresses the following:

  • Granting paid time off for employees to get vaccinated;
  • Instructing all employees to stay home when infected and unvaccinated employees to stay home when encountering infected individuals;
  • Implementing physical distancing for unvaccinated and at-risk employees;
  • Providing masks for unvaccinated and at-risk employees;
  • Providing employee training;
  • Performing routine cleaning and disinfection;
  • Encouraging mask use by unvaccinated visitors;
  • Maintaining ventilation systems; and
  • Prohibiting retaliation.

The guidance also provides an appendix with measures for high-risk workplaces with mixed-vaccination status workers. It provides that employers take additional steps for high-risk situations due to the following factors:

  • Close contact;
  • Duration of contact;
  • Type of contact; and
  • Other distinctive factors.

Employers must also be mindful of any stricter compliance requirements under state or local laws, including in OSHA state plan states.

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.