On June 10, 2021, in addition to issuing regulations for the healthcare industry, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued guidance for all other industries. The guidance makes clear that the transportation industry and schools must follow the CDC guidance. While OSHA guidance is not binding, it signifies best practice, and under the Act’s general duty clause, there can be penalties for employers who fail to follow best practice.
The guidance is a step forward out of the pandemic in two significant ways: it clarifies that employers need not protect fully vaccinated workers, and it allows employers to end monitoring practices. OSHA still has guidance for some vaccinated workers depending on specific considerations in the industries of meat and seafood processing, manufacturing, and high-volume retail. The monitoring practices that are ending include workplace coordinators for COVID-19 enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, screening and testing, and strict isolation, quarantine, and contract-tracing protocols.
For those unprotected workers, OSHA has a guidance framework that starts with protecting unvaccinated and at-risk workers. At-risk workers are those who have a medical condition that does not allow the vaccine to fully protect them or cannot receive the vaccine due to a health condition covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
To protect unvaccinated and at-risk workers, there are eleven protocols. Some protocols are universal:
- Provide paid time off for employees who need the vaccination.
- Insist that employees who are ill remain at home.
- Provide facemasks for indoor work.
- Educate staff on avoiding illness.
- Protect staff who have safety complaints.
- Maintain ventilation.
The guidance is not always clear and sometimes refers to CDC guidance without providing specifics. Those employers who are industries where employees are likely to be in close contact with those who are not vaccinated will need to review the guidance closely. Still, the fact that OSHA issued guidance for most industries indicates that it sees the pandemic as providing less of a threat in the workplace. If COVID-19 variants cause higher infection rates, the guidance may turn into regulations. Employers Council will keep you updated on OSHA regulations and guidance.