Updated OSHA Guidance on Mitigating COVID-19 Spread in the Workplace
On January 21, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order directing the Department of Labor, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to release updated guidance for employers on COVID-19 safety in the workplace. On January 29, these updated guidelines were posted to the OSHA website – it is important to note that these recommendations are non-binding and do not have the same legal effect as an OSHA standard. It is merely OSHA guidance for COVID-19 in your store.
That leads to a central question – what has changed? The previous administration was criticized for not implementing stricter workplace guidance, yet the Biden Administration had promised a more aggressive federal approach, focusing on OSHA. There are important updates and differences when comparing previous guidance, but this most recent release is an interim step to a more robust standard, which is likely to be published between now and March 15, 2021.
In dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic throughout most of 2020 and protecting employees and customers alike, we expect that many home furnishings retailers are familiar with the previous guidance, but new measures include:
- Assign a workplace coordinator responsible for COVID-19 issues
- Provide guidance on screening and testing
- Provide COVID-19 vaccine for employees at no cost
- Provide all workers with face coverings (at no cost) unless their work task requires a respirator
- Discuss ‘reasonable accommodation’ for any workers unable to wear a mask due to a disability
- Many states did not require this, and OSHA did not previously recommend employers purchase masks
- Alignment with workplace practices and updated CDC guidelines for workers exposed to COVID-19 in terms of quarantine, isolation, and return to work
This updated guidance is only the beginning of the Biden Administration’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Executive Order directs OSHA to consider an ‘emergency temporary standard (ETS)’ to be published before March 15, 2021, which would bring actionable enforcement to these workplace standards. These measures are likely to be coordinated with a new Secretary of Labor, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who is beginning his Senate confirmation process with a committee hearing on February 4.
This recently published guidance is likely to serve as a ‘floor’ for federal COVID-19 mitigation strategies, and we suggest that each business review this guidance for best practices moving forward. We expect stricter standards to be implemented in the coming weeks, and we will provide an update as the situation changes.