On January 21, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order requiring that employers receive revised guidance for workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to this order, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) posted new guidance on Friday, January 29 regarding mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces outside of the healthcare setting context. The new guidance also reiterates employers’ requirements regarding recording work-related cases of COVID-19 and reporting COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations.
While there are no new legal requirements in the guidance, the recommendations are intended to assist employers in providing a safe workplace in light of the ongoing pandemic.
Employer Safety Plans
OSHA’s new guidance is consistent with New York State’s requirement for each business or entity - including those designated as essential - to develop a written safety plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. Key aspects of the written safety plan must address safety measures including:
- Providing workers with face masks
- Requiring the use of face masks and physical distancing
- Installing barriers where physical distancing cannot be maintained
- Improving ventilation, providing supplies necessary for good hygiene practices
- Performing routine cleaning and disinfection
- Communicating, educating and training workers regarding COVID-19 policies and procedures
- Instructions for workers who are infected or potentially infected such as instructions to stay home and isolate or quarantine;
- Implementing daily screening of workers, clients and other visitors in the workplace
- Isolating any workers, clients or visitors who begin to experience COVID-19 symptoms while in the workplace
- Performing enhanced cleaning and disinfection after any suspected or confirmed case of CONVID-19 has been in the workplace
Safety Measures for Vaccinated Workers
OSHA’s new guidance also clarifies that even individuals who have been vaccinated must also follow all safety precautions (e.g., wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing), as there is yet no reported evidence that COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus from person to person.
Tara Toevs Carolan is a partner at the New York-based law firm Tarter Krinsky & Drogin LLP, focusing on employment and labor issues.