As directed by President Biden's January 21, 2021 Executive Order previously blogged about here , the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) took the first step toward revamping national protections for workers from COVID-19 and issued updated guidance on preventing the exposure and spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Like OSHA's previous recommendations, the new guidance is not mandatory and does not have the same legal effect as an OSHA emergency temporary standard. But, it gives employers insight into what they may expect will be included in OSHA's COVID-19 emergency standards expected in mid-March. 

While most of the requirements are familiar to employers, here are some significant new measures included in the guidance:

  • Employers should provide all workers with face coverings (i.e., cloth face coverings or disposable surgical masks) at no cost. 
  • Do not distinguish between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not. During the pandemic, all workers must continue to follow protective measures, such as wearing a face covering and remaining physically distant, even if they have been vaccinated.
  • Minimize the effect of quarantine and isolation by implementing non-punitive policies to telework, work in an isolated area, or provide paid sick leave. Employers with less than 500 employees are encouraged to provide FFCRA leave and seek 100% reimbursement through tax credits, which is still available (though not mandatory) through March 31, 2021.  
  • Employers should not use antibody (rapid) tests to determine which workers can work in the office. Instead, if necessary, viral tests that check a respiratory sample for current infection with SARS-CoV-2 should be used.
  • The new guidance also emphasizes anti-retaliation and whistleblower protections for employees who speak out about unsafe working conditions or report an infection or potential exposure to COVID-19.

As new standards and increased enforcement are on the horizon, all employers should take action to get ready! 

Need help updating your COVID-19 Playbook and preparing for workplace safety changes?  Don't worry, we are here to help!


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