August 23, 2021
By Anne E. Baggott
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently updated its guidance for employers to address COVID-19 at work. The updated guidance, dated August 13, 2021, aligns with the revised July 27 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The updated guidance “suggests that employers consider adopting policies that require workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing.” OSHA also recommends that all workers, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors in areas of substantial or high community transmission. OSHA is urging employers to help workers get vaccinated and to have other mitigation strategies in place, such as physical distancing and instructing workers to remain at home if they test positive or have symptoms.
Though the actions OSHA recommends are not mandatory for most employers, a failure to implement the recommended protections opens employers to the risk that the agency may find the employer has violated the general duty clause. Employers have a general duty to provide their employees a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
The August 13 guidance is primarily directed toward employers who are not in the health care sector, which has a separate workplace safety standard. The guidance also includes recommendations for workers in meat, poultry and seafood processing facilities.
The transmissibility of the delta variant is driving the updated recommendations from CDC and OSHA. As a result, many employers are reconsidering return-to-work plans and are implementing (or returning to) more protective workplace policies. A growing number of employers are also implementing policies that require vaccination as a condition of employment.