Tag Archives: CDC

OSHA Issues its Emergency COVID-19 Standard

Contributed By Matthew Horn, June 10, 2021

On June 10, OSHA issued its long-promised COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS).  Surprisingly, the ETS relates only to the healthcare industry, but updated guidance has been issued for all other industries, as outlined below:
 
Non-Healthcare Industries: For non-healthcare industries, including manufacturing and construction, OSHA only intends to continue issue guidance relating to COVID-19, including updated guidance on complying with the CDC’s latest recommendations. Notably, the updated guidance exempts fully vaccinated workers from wearing masks, distancing, and barrier requirements when in areas where there is no reasonable expectation that any person will be present with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.
 
Healthcare Industry: The ETS applies strictly to the healthcare industry, and focuses on healthcare workers most likely to have contact with someone infected with the virus, including employees in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities; emergency responders; home healthcare workers; and employees in ambulatory care settings—where suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are treated.
 
The ETS largely requires these facilities to continue to comply with precautions already in place, codifying well-known requirements such as conducting a hazard assessment, adopting a written COVID-19 plan, providing employees with PPE and respirators as appropriate, distancing, erecting barriers, screening entrants for COVID-19, disinfecting and sanitizing exposed areas, and others. The ETS does add a few new requirements, however, requiring employers to prepare a “COVID-19 log” listing all employee cases of COVID-19 and provide workers with paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects. Covered employees who have COVID-19 or who may be contagious must also be required to work remotely or quarantine, being provided paid time off, up to $1,400 per week. For most employers with fewer than 500 employees, these costs may be reimbursed through the provisions of the American Rescue Plan.
 
Notably, we expect OSHA to use the ETS – and the pandemic itself – as part of its on-going effort to unionize more employers in the healthcare industry. 

UPDATED: I Don’t Want to Wear a Mask…Part 4: OSHA Weighs In!

Contributed By Michael Wong, May 17, 2021

Blue medical face masks isolated on white

***On May 17, 2021, OSHA updated its web page regarding “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace” to state the following:

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidance relating to recommended precautions for people who are fully vaccinated, which is applicable to activities outside of healthcare and a few other environments. OSHA is reviewing the recent CDC guidance and will update our materials on this website accordingly. Until those updates are complete, please refer to the CDC guidance for information on measures appropriate to protect fully vaccinated workers.”

The CDC’s May 13, 2021 guidance “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People” states that fully vaccinated people can “Resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, EXCEPT where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. Fully vaccinated people should also continue to wear a well-fitted mask in correctional facilities and homeless shelters. Prevention measures are still recommended for unvaccinated people.”

However, the CDC has not made any changes to its workplace guidance regarding the use of masks. In particular, the CDC still advises employers to “encourage employees to wear face coverings in the workplace, if appropriate”, and does not differentiate between those who have been vaccinated and those who have not. 

Finally, even though the CDC and OSHA have issued this guidance, a patchwork of state and local policies or rules are popping up making it clear that an “across the board” mask-free workplace is not without legal risk for employers.

What does this mean for the workplace?

OSHA’s updated reference to the CDC’s guidance has essentially made this issue a little more clear. In doing so though, OSHA and the CDC has opened the door to employers and businesses allowing employees to be in the workplace without a mask, if they are fully vaccinated, but has not provided any guidance or direction on how to do so. The risk of OSHA issuing a fine or penalty on this issue has been reduced as long as the company is taking common sense steps to protect its employees, which could include (i) requiring verification or confirmation by employees that they have been fully vaccinated before allowing them to be mask free in the workplace; and (ii) modifying guidance to allow employees who have been vaccinated to not wear a mask in the workplace, unless interacting with or in a part of the business where there are customers, clients or the public.

In considering revised policies, employers should remember that there is still risk from workers’ compensation claims. While being vaccinated reduces the possibility of getting COVID-19, if an employee is not wearing a mask in the workplace and gets COVID-19, the employer could still face a workers’ compensation claim that the employee got COVID-19 at work. 

With respect to customers or clients coming into the business, the issue is even muddier, as the CDC and OSHA guidelines are unclear on what is expected of businesses and employers at this point. For example, if a business allows customers or clients into the business without a mask, do they have to verify that they have been vaccinated? Moreover, there is no guidance on what questions a business could ask a customer or client to confirm if he or she has been vaccinated. 

As such, this still means that training, education and communicating with employees and customers will be vital within the next few weeks and months. Many employees and customers will hear about the federal “unmasking,” but will not understand that it does not apply to employers or businesses based on state or local requirements or guidelines.

Training for employees should include methods on addressing, managing and de-escalating conflicts with customers and between employees. In particular, re-emphasizing and educating employees on how to communicate the business’ policies and more importantly the reason why the business’ policies may not have changed.

Finally, don’t forget that employer and business obligations regarding reasonable accommodation of disabilities and religious beliefs under the ADA and Title VII are still in place.

Due to the complexity and interplay of federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including CDC, OSHA and state and local health departments and governments, it is important to use legal counsel experienced and knowledgeable in labor and employment law to help you navigate these waters.

For further information on this matter, keep an eye out for our timely webcast, “Mask Mandate Mayhem! A Briefing for Confused Employers” on Monday, May 24th at Noon CT.  

I Don’t Want to Wear a Mask…Part 3: Land of the Mask Free and Home of the Brave

Contributed By Michael Wong, May 14, 2021

Blue medical face masks isolated on white

On May 13, 2021, the CDC issued new guidance stating that those who are fully vaccinated can resume activities without wearing a mask or social distancing. Following the CDC’s announcement, President Biden lifted the mask mandate that was required by staff and visitors of the White House.  

While the CDC has issued this guidance, a patchwork of state and local policies or rules are popping up making clear that we are not going to be mask free quite yet. More importantly, the CDC’s announcement contained a big “EXCEPTION” by stating “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local businesses and workplace guidance.”

To be clear, the CDC has not made any changes to its workplace guidance regarding the use of masks. The CDC guidance still advises employers to “encourage employees to wear face coverings in the workplace, if appropriate.” More importantly though for employers, OSHA still states that employers and businesses should require the use of face masks and emphasizes that “employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious harm. In fact, President Biden’s “lifting of the mask mandate” for staff and visitors could potentially be considered a violation of CDC and OSHA guidance regarding workplaces.

Employer and business compliance with CDC and OSHA Guidelines is still very important, especially with the potential for fines. Recently, OSHA issued a $136,532 penalty and citation to a Massachusetts company for prohibiting employees and customers from wearing face coverings in the workplace and requiring employees to work within six feet of each other and customers for multiple hours while not wearing face coverings, finding that the company’s actions put its employees safety at risk of recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

The issue gets even more complicated at the state and local level. Some states, including New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Maine, have advised that they will not be modifying their mask mandates at this time. Many other states, including Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and California have begun adjusting their mask mandates and guidance (including setting dates for them to tentatively end).  While other states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, and Texas, have already rescinded their statewide mask mandates. To make things even more confusing, even in the states that have rescinded the state wide mask mandates, some local governments have maintained mask mandates including those for employees and/or customers. Then to make it even more unclear, Indiana just passed a law stating that the decision regarding masks is now controlled by city councils and mayors/elected officials and not local health officers. At least one county in Indiana, Marion County, which covers Indianapolis and its surrounding suburbs, has already had its City Council vote to continue its mask mandate.

What does this mean For Businesses?
This means that businesses must still require employees to wear masks in the workplace and must still require customers coming into the business to wear masks unless otherwise allowed by state or local guidelines, and even then you are still required to comply with OSHA requirements.

This also means that training, education and communicating with employees and customers will be vital within the next few weeks and months. Many employees and customers will hear about the federal “unmasking,” but will not understand that it does not apply to employers or businesses based on state or local requirements or guidelines. Moreover, as OSHA has now made clear by fining businesses, there are repercussions for employers and businesses violating the face mask requirements and guidance. 

Training for employees should include methods on addressing, managing and de-escalating conflicts with customers and between employees. In particular, re-emphasizing and educating employees on how to communicate the business’ policies and more importantly the reason why the business’ policies have not changed. This is vitally important to avoid “viral videos” of confrontations as businesses will no longer be able to point to a presidential mandate or executive order to validate mask policies. Rather, businesses will have to educate employees and customers on federal, state and local requirements and guidelines for businesses and make clear that the “mask free” announcement for those with vaccinations are limited to public and social activities and not so much the workplace, business interactions and shopping. 

Finally, don’t forget that employer and business obligations regarding reasonable accommodation of disabilities and religious beliefs under the ADA and Title VII are still in place. 

Due to the complexity and interplay of federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including CDC, OSHA and state and local health departments and governments, it is important to use legal counsel experienced and knowledgeable in labor and employment law to help you navigate these waters.

CDC Issues New Relaxed Guidelines for Safety Practices for Essential Workers Potentially Exposed to COVID-19

Contributed by John Hayes, April 10, 2020

An important question for employers in essential industries is whether its employees should come to work after potential exposure to COVID-19.  The previous guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) recommended employees stay home for 14 days after exposure.  However, late on April 8, 2020 the CDC issued new guidelines — abandoning the former restrictions — for employers of critical infrastructure workers in essential sectors such as health care, manufacturing, food and agriculture, information technology, and transportation.  The CDC guidance is designed to educate employers on the procedures to follow in allowing employees to return to work after having been exposed to the COVID-19, and to get employees in essential sectors back to work sooner rather than later.   

The CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue to work, or return to work, following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented by the employer.  Specifically, the CDC says employers should adhere to the following practices when an employee has been potentially exposed to COVID-19 (a potential exposure means a household contact or having close contact within six feet of an individual that has confirmed or suspected COVID-19, up to 48 hours before the individual became symptomatic):

  • Pre-Screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
  • Regular Monitoring: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
  • Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.
  • Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
  • Disinfect and Clean work spaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.
  • Implement the CDC’s prior guidance for employers to plan and respond to COVID-19: Among other recommendations, increase air exchange in the workplace. 

The CDC further recommends that if the employee becomes sick during the day, they should be immediately sent home and surfaces in their workspace should be cleaned and disinfected pursuant to CDC guidelines.  Information on persons who had contact with the ill employee during the time the employee had symptoms and 2 days prior to symptoms should be compiled.  Others at the facility with close contact within 6 feet of the employee during this time would be considered exposed.

This is just the first step the federal government is taking towards reopening the country, and is only a small part in the ever-evolving guidance to employers from the CDC.  Employers of workers in an essential business sector should be mindful of these new guidelines issued by the CDC for both the safety of its workforce and potential pitfalls of allowing, or not allowing, an employee potentially exposed to COVID-19 to come to work.  We will continue to monitor this very fluid situation and issue updates here as soon as things change.