The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued new guidance concerning the protection of unvaccinated and at-risk employees from COVID-19 and reporting workplace exposures to the virus. Employers must have a game plan to comply with the guidance or risk being fined.
The updated guidance makes recommendations for employees who are fully vaccinated but are in areas of substantial or high community transmission – which is most counties in the U.S. as of early September. Masks are key for everyday protection of unvaccinated and immunocompromised workers.
If an employee has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, they should be tested three to five days after the contact and wear a mask in indoor public settings for 14 days after that exposure or until they test negative for the virus.
OSHA lists the higher-risk workplaces where there is prolonged contact with other workers or nonworkers as:
- Meat, seafood and poultry processing.
- High-volume retail and grocery businesses.
- Agricultural processing settings.
Vaccination is still the most effective way to prevent severe illness or death from COVID-19, OSHA reiterates.
“Employers should engage with workers and their representatives to determine how to implement multi-layered interventions to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” the agency said.
OSHA suggests employers take a number of steps to prevent the spread of the virus:
- Give employees paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.
- Instruct workers who are infected, unvaccinated employees who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and employees with symptoms of the virus to stay home.
- Maintain physical distancing in communal work areas for people who are unvaccinated or at-risk.
- Provide face coverings for all employees.
- Improve ventilation systems through regular HVAC system maintenance, greater access to outdoor air and portable air filters.
- Educate and train workers about the company’s COVID-19 policy.
The guidance doesn’t apply to employers in health care settings such as hospitals and nursing homes, which are covered specifically under OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for Healthcare.
While OSHA’s updated guidance doesn’t mandate vaccinations, the agency “suggests that employers consider adopting policies that require workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing – in addition to mask wearing and physical distancing – if they remain unvaccinated.”
I caution employers not to make a blanket mandate on COVID-19 vaccinations. Every workplace environment is different, and I believe it should be done on a role-by-role basis. Companies don’t generally require all employees to receive other types of vaccines, such as influenza. Employees traveling to an area at high risk for malaria, for example, would be advised to be vaccinated for the parasite. Workers who don’t have prolonged contact with other staff or the public may not need to be vaccinated. I’m fully vaccinated and I still wear a mask. Vaccination is an individual choice, but community health is a workplace issue during a global pandemic.
OSHA recordkeeping requirements mandate that employers record some work-related injuries and illnesses. COVID-19 should be reported if an employee contracts it while on the job. The illness only needs to be reported if it meets certain criteria, including that it is a confirmed case of COVID-19 and is work-related. Check OSHA’s Injury and Illness Reporting Requirements page at https://bit.ly/3jGe2GZ for more information.
I advise employers to work with their Human Resources management to develop a policy to protect unvaccinated and at-risk employees and educate new employees about the policy. For more information on the guidance, go to https://bit.ly/3gXkgkg.
If an employee contracts COVID-19 in the workplace, it’s more important than ever for employers to have a plan in place. The new guidance enables OSHA to conduct inspections at companies if the agency receives a complaint. If you need help developing a policy on workplace exposure to the virus, reach out to me.
50+ Job Seekers meetings
The 50+ Job Seekers Networking Group’s meetings are still virtual.
The Latino/Hispanic 50+ Interactive Workshop Series meets from 1 to 3 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. The meetings and topics for September are:
- 8: Create a Job Search Plan
- 22: Job Search Tool Box: What’s Missing?
The virtual doors open 15 minutes before the program starts. Pre-registration for first-time participants and advance registration is at https://50plusjobseekers.org/outreach/registration/
Those who are already registered with the program will receive an email about the 50+ Job Seekers workshops.
The Massachusetts Library Collaborative meets from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. the first and third Wednesdays of the month from July through December.
Connect with me
To contact me, download my digital business card by texting HRPRO to 21000 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.