The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published its long-awaited emergency temporary standard (ETS) and accompanying guidance, “Protecting Workers,” on June 10, 2021. The ETS applies to covered healthcare employers, while the guidance articulates best practices for all employers in providing a “safe and healthful workplace.”
Like the emergency rules issued by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) (applicable to all employers in the state), OSHA’s new guidance distinguishes between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees and focuses on continued masking and distancing recommendations for those who aren’t yet fully vaccinated.
Below are eight steps employers can take to comply with the latest OSHA safety guidelines:
- Grant paid leave to incentivize vaccination. Under the American Rescue Plan, employers with 500 or fewer employees that voluntarily provide them with paid leave to obtain and recover from a vaccination may be eligible for refundable payroll tax credits.
- Instruct certain employees to stay home from work. Employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 and display symptoms shouldn’t be permitted in the workplace. Unvaccinated employees who report close contact with a confirmed coronavirus case also should also be denied entrance.
- Establish social distancing for unvaccinated and at-risk employees, visitors, and customers. Maintaining six feet of distance, limiting the number of people in one place at any given time, setting fixed workstations, and installing transparent shields or other solid barriers continue to be ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
- Mask up. Employers must provide masks to unvaccinated and at-risk persons and require their use.
- Perform routine cleaning and disinfection. You must document and implement a daily cleaning procedure, using soap and cleaning supplies to remove any virus particles that may be on surfaces. If someone in the workplace is suspected of having or confirmed to have COVID-19, close off the area, and take additional precautions.
- Ventilation systems. Ensuring HVAC systems are operating in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and design specifications is a key control to limit the concentration of viral particles in indoor air and reduce the risk of virus transmission to unvaccinated employees.
- Educate employees on COVID-19 policies and procedures. You should inform employees about basic COVID-19 risks and workplace policies implemented to protect them from COVID-19 hazards. In addition, tell them about your vaccine policies and their right to raise workplace safety and health concerns free from retaliation. You should document any communications or trainings provided to employees.
- Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths. You must continue to record confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths on OSHA’s Form 300 logs when (1) an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to an infection and (2) it affected an employee’s ability to work. Note, however, adverse vaccine reactions don’t need to be recorded.
Although OSHA’s guidance doesn’t create new legal obligations, it does indicate what the agency considers appropriate measures in a safe work environment. On the other hand, the agency’s ETS (applicable to healthcare employers) and MIOSHA’s emergency rules are legal obligations that may result in civil penalties assessed on a “per violation” basis.
Under MIOSHA’s emergency rules, all Michigan employers permitting vaccinated employees to go maskless need to keep a record of which workers have gotten the shots. Alternatively, you may require all employees, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks and socially distance.
Alexander J. Burridge is an attorney with Bodman PLC’s workplace law practice group in Detroit, Michigan. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.