OSHA Updates Workplace Coronavirus Guidance

Author: Michael Cardman, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 17, 2021

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has updated its workplace coronavirus guidance to, among other things, reflect recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on masks and testing for fully vaccinated workers.

Following the CDC, OSHA now recommends that fully vaccinated employees:

  • Wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission;
  • Wear a mask regardless of level of transmission, particularly if individuals are at risk or have someone in their household who is at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated; and
  • Get tested three to five days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.

OSHA's guidance does not elaborate on what constitutes a public indoor setting. As for determining whether a worksite is located in an area of substantial or high transmission, OSHA links to the CDC's county-by-county COVID tracker.

OSHA's guidance is intended for employers and workers in non-healthcare industries, i.e., those not covered by the agency's Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for Healthcare.

OSHA noted that its guidance is not a standard or regulation, so it creates no new legal obligations.

However, employers still must comply with any applicable safety and health standards and regulations enforced either by OSHA or by an OSHA-approved state plan. That includes obligations under existing OSHA standards that may apply to COVID-19 hazards such as the injury and illness recordkeeping standard, requirements for the provision of PPE, respiratory protection and hazard communication.

In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Act's General Duty Clause allows OSHA inspectors to cite an employer under a generally worded standard that can fit almost any situation. Although the guidance is advisory in nature, employers should assume it reflects OSHA's interpretation of the General Duty Clause.