Over the past year, we have been inundated with information and ongoing changes related to COVID, safety, and the workplace from variety of sources. The only one that we really had not heard from, until now, is the organization that is responsible for overall workplace safety in the US…. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Virtually every company is governed by OSHA and the General Duty Clause that essentially says all employers are required to provide a safe and healthy working environment and all employees should comply with the safety and health standards as well. That clause is certainly is applicable during the Coronavirus Pandemic, as evidenced by the millions of dollars in penalties and fines that have been assessed by OSHA to companies because of lack of COVID protection for employees - but the clause is fairly generalized and there hadn’t been specific COVID safety guidance issued by OSHA until now.
On January 29, 2021, OSHA issued “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID in the Workplace”. The details can be found here and we recommend reading through it. One item to note is that this is guidance and recommendations, not a legal mandate. The Biden administration may move OSHA to create mandates for employers at some point, but for now, this is recommended guidance. But don’t forget about the general duty clause, which is a legal mandate.
The bulk of the guidance follows the same line as recommendations from the CDC as it relates to wearing masks, socially distancing, regular cleaning, improving ventilation, installing partitions, providing PPE, and how to manage the circumstances when an employee shows symptoms, has a positive test, or may have been exposed. Outside of that, there is a strong emphasis on educating and training related to COVID safety in the workplace.
It is recommended that companies have a comprehensive policy and plan that outlines the various components related to COVID in the workplace as outlined in the OSHA guidance, as well as provide training and education to employees so they can best protect themselves and their families.
Some states do require COVID workplace training, but even if it is not required, it is recommended and can only be beneficial for everyone.
Speaking of safety in the workplace, let’s take a quick look at vaccines in the workplace, and whether your small business should mandate vaccines or not. First, before you take any steps or make any decisions around that, please consult with either an Attorney or HR consultant so that there can be a clear understanding of what the decision means for your small businesses.
Some key points to think about when determining whether to mandate vaccines or not:
· If you are in a fully remote environment with low risk of spread, it is not recommended to make vaccination mandatory.
· When determining whether or not to make vaccines mandatory, assess the work environment, the industry, and the job duties to determine the level of risk and exposure.
· Be prepared for questions and potentially pushback from employees, but also know the line on what can and cannot be mandated by an employer, even with a mandatory vaccine policy.
· Make a policy and practice that addresses medical or religious accommodations related to the vaccine. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides guidance on that here. (Scroll down to Section K)
We recommend that companies take the approach of strongly encouraging employees to get vaccinated as well as provide education, support, and resources for getting vaccinated rather than creating a mandatory vaccination policy. The CDC provides guidance for business owner on doing just that, here. However, if you choose that mandatory vaccinations are necessary for your business, again, before taking any steps towards a mandatory policy, please consult with a professional that can help you walk through this.
Employers Advantage LLC does have COVID training available that meets state requirements and recommendations, so please reach out to Robert Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about training as well as what COVID safety means for your small business.