In response to President Biden’s January 21 Executive Order, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently issued updated general COVID-19 safety guidance for all workplace settings outside of healthcare.
OSHA made clear that the new guidance is not a new standard or regulation and does not create any new legal obligations, but it does contain useful recommendations for ensuring workplace safety.
Implementing a COVID-19 prevention program is the most effective way for employers to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at work. Such plans should include the following elements:
Assignment of a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues on the employer’s behalf
Identification of where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work
Identification of a combination of measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, in line with the principles of the hierarchy of controls (i.e., prioritizing controls, such as face coverings and other PPE, improved ventilation, providing supplies necessary for good hygiene practices, and routine cleaning and disinfection, etc., from most to least effective)
Consideration of protections for workers at higher risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices
Establishment of a system for communicating effectively with workers and in a language they understand
Educate and train workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in a language they understand
Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine (workers who have or likely have COVID-19 should be isolated until they meet CDC guidelines for exiting isolation and workers should quarantine if they have been exposed to COVID-19)
Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers (i.e., telework, paid leave policies, etc.)
Isolate workers who show symptoms at work
Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 have been in the facility
Provide guidance on screening and testing (the CDC estimates that over 50% of the recent spread of the virus is from individuals with no symptoms at the time of spread, so employers should be careful not to become overly reliant on screening procedures)
Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths in accordance with OSHA rules and regulations
Implement protections from retaliation and set up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19 related hazards
Make a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees
Do not distinguish between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not (it is still unknown how vaccination affects transmissibility)
Other applicable OSHA Standards, including requirements for PPE, respiratory protection, sanitation, protection from bloodborne pathogens, and OSHA’s requirements for employee access to medical and exposure records (note: there is not OSHA Standard specific to COVID-19, but employers are still required under the General Duty Clause to provide a safe and healthful workplace that is free from recognized hazards that can cause serious physical harm or death)
A complete copy of OSHA's new guidance is available here.
Employers are advised to consult with their legal counsel regarding specific questions or concerns. If you have any questions, or need assistance, please feel free to contact Jeremy D. Iosue or Jason T. Hartzell at (216) 651-0451.
This Employment Law Alert may provide an overview of specific federal and/or state laws and regulations. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice for any particular situation or individual.
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