OSHA Issues Updated COVID-19 Guidance

COVID-19 Update

Date: February 03, 2021

On January 29 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released updated guidance (Guidance) on how to mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Guidance was issued in response to President Biden’s Executive Order directing OSHA to release clear direction for employers on reducing COVID-19 transmission in the workplace.

Many employers have already implemented some of the policies and procedures enumerated in the Guidance through their existing pandemic response initiatives. Further, the Guidance notes the changing recommendations issued by the CDC and state and local health departments and indicates that in identified circumstances those recommendations should be followed. There are also some new recommendations in the Guidelines, including the adoption of a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention program. Topics and recommendations in the Guidance include:

  • Employers should assign a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues on the employer’s behalf.
  • Employers should make a COVID-19 vaccine or vaccination series available at no cost to all eligible employees. They should also provide information and training on the benefits and safety of vaccinations.
  • Employers should provide all workers with face coverings (i.e., cloth face coverings, surgical masks) at no cost to the worker, unless their work task requires a respirator. Employers must discuss the possibility of “reasonable accommodation” for any workers who are unable to wear or have difficulty wearing certain types of face coverings due to a disability.
  • Employers should require visitors, customers and other non-employees to wear a face covering at the worksite unless they are under the age of 2 or are actively consuming food or beverages on-site.
  • Employers should not distinguish between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not. OSHA has adopted the CDC’s current guidance that there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus from person to person.
  • Employers should provide guidance on screening and testing.
  • Employers should isolate workers who show symptoms at work and minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation of workers.
  • Employers may not discriminate against employees for raising a reasonable concern about infection control related to COVID-19 to the employer, the employer’s agent, other employees, a government agency, or to the public, or against an employee for voluntarily providing and wearing their own personal protective equipment, such as a respirator, face shield, gloves or surgical mask.

The Guidance also expands upon existing OSHA recommendations for limiting the spread of COVID-19, including implementing and following physical distancing protocols, isolating workers who are infected or potentially infected, and ensuring that individuals have the supplies necessary for good hygiene practices.

While OSHA notes that its Guidance is not a standard or regulation, it states in the Guidance that the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Act) requires that employers comply with safety and health standards and regulations issued and enforced either by OSHA or by an OSHA-approved state plan. OSHA also notes that the Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide workers with a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Noncompliance with OSHA’s specific regulations and the General Duty clause may result in fines and enforcement directives.

Employers should reevaluate their current compliance and COVID-19 safety controls with OSHA’s updated Guidance and take appropriate steps to ensure that they are following OSHA’s recommendations.


For more information, please contact:

M. Scott Young

Hannah E. Caldwell

or any member of our Labor & Employment practice group.

Additional Resources

We have assembled a firmwide multidisciplinary task force to address clients’ business and legal concerns and needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please see our COVID-19 Task Force page for additional information and resources.

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