Employers: What OSHA's New COVID Guidance Means
On Friday, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) issued new COVID-19 guidance, following President Biden’s executive order on this issue. As guidance, it is not binding on employers, but rather advisory in nature and intended to assist employers. However, OSHA is preparing an emergency standard on COVID for roll out as soon as March. The standard will be binding. Much of what is in the guidance is anticipated to be in the standard as well.
While much of the guidance repeats advice you have been carrying out for months – enforcing social distancing, exhorting good hygiene, isolating sick and potentially infected workers – there are some new twists, including the following:
- Workers (or their representatives) should be involved in your COVID-19 prevention program.
- You should have a workplace coordinator responsible for COVID-19 issues.
- Adopt practices (telework, well-ventilated spaces) for employees at higher risk for severe illness.
- Ensure that absence policies do not adversely affect employees who are infected or potentially infected. If possible, provide paid sick leave if telework is not available.
- Provide masks and/or face coverings to your employees at no cost.
- Allow employees to voice concerns about COVID-19 issues anonymously and implement prohibitions against retaliation for those employees.
- Provide the vaccine free of charge to your employees.
If you have not done so recently, you should examine your COVID-19 workplace prevention program and determine if it can be improved. And if you do not have such a program, now would be a good time to adopt one.
Stay safe and keep the course. And please let us know if we can help. In 2020, OSHA was generally very forgiving towards employers with respect to COVID-19 issues. We know this because we helped dozens of clients deal with OSHA inquiries based on COVID-19-related employee complaints. That most certainly will not be the case in 2021.