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OSHA: Got the Vaccine? Great, Now Wear Your Mask!

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The United States Department of Labor ("DOL") announced on Friday, January 29, 2021, that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) released additional work safety guidance on practices related to slowing the spread of COVID-19. The updated guidance is more wide-ranging than previous industry-specific versions. Its purpose is to “better identify risks which could lead to exposure and contraction.” It is in part a response to President Biden’s Executive Order instructing OSHA to revise its guidance on COVID-19 which would issue temporary standards that could become enforceable. Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor M. Patricia Smith explained: “More than 400,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and millions of people are out of work as a result of this crisis. Employers and workers can help our nation fight and overcome this deadly pandemic by committing themselves to making their workplaces as safe as possible.”

In essence, employers should require workers to wear masks even if workers possess the often-social-media-posted completed vaccination card. This includes social distancing for vaccinated employees. The guidance further suggests employers should provide employees with information about the “benefits and safety of vaccinations” and ensure those who are eligible can receive the vaccine at no cost. The updated guidance is not a legal requirement on employers per se, it stems in part from the Center for Disease Control’s (“CDC”) lack of knowledge as to whether vaccinated individuals can still transmit Covid-19. With the surge of new variants and strains of the virus making headway in various states, the new guidance has expanded its essential elements from its original guidance released in March 2020.

The comprehensive elements are as follows:

  • Assign a Workplace Coordinator;
  • Identification of where and how workers might be exposed to Covid-19 at work;
  • Identification of Measures to Limit the Spread;
  • Consider Protections for higher risk workers for severe illness through supportive policies and practices;
  • Educate/Train workers on Employer COVID-19 Policies and Procedures using accessible formats for both English and non-English speaking workers;
  • Isolate works exhibiting symptoms;
  • Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and quarantine;
  • Implement protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns;
  • Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after workers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been at the workplace, once the area has been appropriately disinfected, only those workers without close contact may return;
  • Record and Report COVID-19 infections and deaths.

As vaccinations become more easily accessible and the virus evolves, new guidance is expected. We will update this article as additional information becomes available.