In addition to its new COVID-19 emergency temporary standard for health care employers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a companion revision to its general guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. While not regulatory, the revised guidance applies to all employers with employees potentially exposed to the virus at their worksites. The new guidelines do not include radical departures from previous OSHA guidance but do include recognition of reduced risks to fully vaccinated employees.
OSHA states that in most circumstances, fully vaccinated workers do not need to take special precautions to avoid the risk of coronavirus infection in the workplace. Therefore, the guidance is limited to unvaccinated employees, as well as those vaccinated workers who remain at risk of infection due to suppressed immune systems or other medical conditions. Basically, this creates a set of workplace rules only applicable to those at-risk employees and it includes previously endorsed measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.
The guidance urges employers to reduce workplace risk of COVID-19 spread by taking steps to encourage all employees to get vaccinated. Employers should continue to take some general measures such as frequent cleaning and ventilation improvements in order to protect unvaccinated workers. Overall, the guidance provides employers with support for relaxing COVID-19 protocols for fully vaccinated employees. In the event of employee complaints to OSHA, documentation of the employer’s differentiation between these two classes of employees can serve as a rebuttal to claims that workers are being placed at an unreasonable risk of infection.