In June, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) updated its recommendations for protecting unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers from COVID-19 exposure.
OSHA’s updated guidance document (the “Guidance”) recognizes that employers no longer have a special responsibility to protect their fully vaccinated employees from COVID-19 exposure in general, non-healthcare settings. However, the guidance also acknowledges that many workplaces continue to contain a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated workers; for these settings, the Guidance contains a helpful list of recommended steps and best practices for continuing to protect unvaccinated workers and at-risk workers who might not have a full immune response to the COVID-19 vaccine.
While the Guidance does not create new, legally binding requirements, it does outline the following steps that employers can take to implement “multi-layered interventions to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” including:
- Granting paid time off for employees to get vaccinated;
- Instructing any workers who are infected, unvaccinated workers who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and all workers with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home from work, and creating supportive leave policies to encourage sick workers to stay home;
- Implementing physical distancing for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers in all communal work areas;
- Providing unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers with face coverings or surgical masks, unless their work task requires a respirator or other PPE;
- Educating and training workers on your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in language they understand;
- Suggesting that unvaccinated customers, visitors, or guests wear face coverings, especially in public-facing workplaces, if there are unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in the workplace who are likely to interact with these customers, visitors, or guests;
- Maintaining ventilation systems; and
- Performing routine cleaning and disinfection.
The Guidance also covers existing mandatory OSHA rules around recording and reporting COVID-19 infections/deaths, protecting workers from retaliation when voicing concerns about COVID-19 related hazards, and following other mandatory OSHA standards when applicable (such as in healthcare and other high-risk settings).
Finally, the Guidance contains enhanced recommendations for “higher-risk” workplaces where unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers may be at heightened risk of COVID exposure. In these workplaces, employers should take extra steps to encourage mask-wearing, physical distancing, and other mitigation measures.
The Guidance provides detailed information and links to additional resources for implementing each intervention. Nonprofit employers should look to the Guidance as they develop their own COVID mitigation policies, especially if they are not requiring all employees to vaccinate before returning to in-person work.