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OSHA Issues New COVID-19 Worker Protections After Executive Order

OSHA Issues New COVID-19 Worker Protections After Executive Order

In response to one of many executive orders signed by President Biden, OSHA recently issued new COVID-19 workplace guidelines to keep employees safe during the pandemic. Find out what HR teams should know about this incoming set of regulations.

 

How Does the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Protect Workers?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the U.S. government under the Department of Labor (DOL). Congress created OSHA from the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to ensure health and safety standards for employee working conditions. 

OSHA’s mission is to aid in the prevention of work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. OSHA also sets and enforces standards by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance. Employers are required to adhere to certain OSHA regulations that ensure compliance with these goals, including record-keeping for on-the-job injuries and illnesses and providing a hazard-free workplace.  

These objectives have been put to the test during the coronavirus pandemic. Between providing personal protective equipment (PPE), working remotely, and enforcing social distancing measures, many employers have struggled to keep up with the guidelines that help keep employees safe from COVID-19. As a result, pandemic-related lawsuits against American employers are on the rise.

 

OSHA Issues New COVID-19 Guidance in 2021

On Jan. 21, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order that directs OSHA to provide more COVID-19 safety guidelines. On Jan. 29, 2021, OSHA released these new regulation guidelines on its website.

Many of the components of this guidance remain consistent with previously released recommendations. And while The National Law Review reports the guidelines are not mandatory, some notable new suggested actions include: 

  1. Making a COVID-19 Vaccine/Vaccine Series Available at No Cost to All Eligible Employees: Including providing information and training about the safety and benefits of vaccinations. 
  2. Maintaining Safety Standards Despite Employee Vaccination Status: Workers who are vaccinated should still follow protective measures like mask-wearing until more evidence about post-vaccination transmission is available. 
  3. Providing Masks to Employees: Face coverings should be provided at no cost to the employee, among other recommended guidelines. 
  4. Continue Offering FFCRA Leave: While still available through March 31, 2021, FFCRA leave is no longer mandatory. With this said, employers that do offer voluntary FFCRA leave are eligible for a tax credit to cover costs related to employee time off. 
  5. Providing Guidance About Screening and Testing: Employers should follow state or local guidance and priorities for screening and testing in workplaces. Workplace testing can be arranged through the employer's health provider or in coordination with the local or state health department. 

 For the full list of guidance, visit osha.gov.

 

OSHA Considering Emergency Temporary COVID-19 Standards for 2021

The executive order also mandates OSHA to determine the necessity of new emergency temporary safety standards for the workplace and implement and enforce these measures if applicable. New emergency standards are required to be issued by March 15, 2021.

There is a difference between OSHA guidance and emergency temporary standards. The former constitutes a set of recommended guidelines for employers while the latter includes rules that must be followed by employers—and is enforceable by OSHA. While not yet released, temporary, enforceable directives could include:

  1. Requiring mask-wearing in the workplace; and 
  2. Making short-, medium-, and long-term changes to better protect employees on the job and ensure equity in enforcement.

 

What Else Should HR Know About New OSHA Requirements for Employers?

The same executive order stated that it will launch a new national program to focus OSHA coronavirus enforcement efforts on violations that put the largest number of employees at serious risk. While little is known about the program at this time, the refocused enforcement initiative is likely to impact larger employers and industries on the frontline of the pandemic, including healthcare workers, food supply workers, and more. 

HR professionals should stay on top of the two deadlines set by the Biden administration and adjust practices accordingly. As a reminder, these dates include: 

    • New OSHA Guidance: Issued on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021
    • New  Emergency Temporary Standards: By Monday, March 15, 2021

Note: This article will be updated when more information about the new OSHA guidelines is available. 

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