Return To The Office Safely – OSHA COVID-19 Guidance Updated

Although many companies are on a path to return to work after Labor Day, some are slowing their roll as the Delta variant of COVID -19 continues to spread.  However, for those still planning an early fall return, this month, on August 13th,  the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) issued updated guidance intended to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace.  The updated guidance (which can be found here: OSHA Covid-19 Guidance) mirrors the Center for Disease Control’s (“CDC”) own recently updated recommendations on the issue.  

OSHA now recommends that:

I.  Fully vaccinated workers in “areas of substantial or high community transmission” (as identified by the CDC) wear masks in public indoor settings

II.  Fully vaccinated workers who have close contact with someone with COVID-19 wear a mask for up to 14 days unless they receive a negative COVID-19 test at least 3-5 days after the contact; and

III.  Employers “consider adopting policies that require workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing.”  In other words, OSHA recommends that employers either implement a vaccine mandate or implement a regular Covid-19 testing protocol. In addition to the above, the update reiterates OSHA’s previous guidance for employers to consider, including:

  1. Facilitate workers getting vaccinated, including providing paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects;
  2. Instruct workers who are infected, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work;
  3. Implement physical distancing of at least six feet in all communal work areas for unvaccinated and at-risk workers;
  4. Provide all workers with face coverings or surgical masks at no cost, as appropriate;
  5. Educate and train workers on the workplace’s COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in languages that workers understand;
  6. Suggest or require that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests, as well as those in areas of substantial or high transmission, wear face coverings in public-facing workplaces;
  7. Maintain ventilation systems and consider the use of portable air cleaners in spaces with high occupancy or limited ventilation;
  8. Perform routine cleaning and disinfection in accordance with CDC guidance, including where someone suspected of having or confirmed to have COVID-19 has been in the workplace within the prior 24 hours;
  9. Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths as mandated by OSHA rules;
  10. Protect workers from retaliation and set up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19 related hazards; and
  11. Continue to follow all other applicable OSHA standards. 

While OSHA’s updated guidance is only advisory, the recommendations emphasize the importance of vaccinations and suggest that employers consider adopting protocols that require workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing— in addition to wearing a mask and social distancing— if they are unvaccinated.

Your employment lawyer can help your HR team develop and implement COVID-19 safety protocols to help your employees return to work safely.  Get in touch for a free consultation!

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Gary Savine is an Illinois employment lawyer and founder of Savine Employment Law, Ltd. in Chicago. Gary regularly advises human resources professionals on recently enacted employment laws.

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