OSHA has now released updated guidance seeking to assist employers identify COVID-19 related risks and to operate a prevention program. While it is primarily consistent with previously-issued guidance, a key new feature is a section with recommendations for workers after receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine. Essentially, vaccinated workers must continue to follow the same exact protection measures and protocols as non-vaccinated workers.
The updated guidance can be found here. Please note that it is only recommended guidance, and does not constitute a new standard or regulation.
At first, the guidance reviews a number of recommendations which have previously been issued. These serve as a refresher for the actions that an employer should already be taking to protect workers from COVID-19. These include:
- Assigning a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 related issues;
- Engaging in a procedure to identify COVID-19 hazards in the workplace;
- Developing a combination of measures to eliminate or mitigate against those hazards through various means such as requiring mask use, distancing, administrative procedures, and/or physical barriers/systems;
- Considering possible additional measures to protect workers who are at a higher risk for severe illness;
- Communicating with workers about possible exposure and symptoms in a way that they will understand;
- Educating workers on COVID-19 and training on the employer’s prevention policies;
- Instructing workers who are potentially infected to stay home;
- Isolating workers that develop symptoms at work;
- Minimizing the impact of quarantine and isolation on workers through programs such as paid sick leave, etc.;
- Enhanced cleaning and disinfection of facilities;
- Incorporating state and local rules regarding COVID-19 testing and providing guidance to employees;
- Recording and reporting COVID-19 infections and deaths to OSHA;
- Implementing protections from retaliation and setting up an anonymous system for workers to voice possible concerns; and
- Complying with relevant OSHA standards.
The new portion of the guidance, however, addresses how vaccinated employees are to be considered in these prior recommendations. In this, OSHA states that vaccinated workers must continue to follow these same protective measures and in the same way as non-vaccinated workers (at least at this time). This is because at present, there is “not evidence that COVID-19 vaccines prevent the transmission of the virus from person to person.” Experts are currently seeking to better understand the degree of protection offered by the vaccines, and the guidance may be updated at a later date if/when non-transmission is shown.
As more and more workers become vaccinated against the virus, employers will need to consider how vaccinations may affect their safety protocol. The OSHA guidance is likely the first of many new recommendations to be issued concerning this topic. At present, however, employers should continue to require all workers (whether vaccinated or not) to comply with their COVID-19 safety and prevention plans.
If you have any questions on COVID-19 safety protocols or the vaccination of employees, please contact one of the attorneys in our Employment Law Group at 1-888-488-2638.