Following End of Mask Mandate, OSHA Issues New Guidance for Employers

By Blerina Kotori

After the end of the mask mandate on March 12, many businesses were left wondering whether OSHA’s other requirements for workplaces, such as employee notification, infection protocols, and ventilation systems, remained in effect. OSHA has issued a new advisory memorandum for workplaces to answer these questions.

According to the memorandum, OSHA will continue to enforce some of the most critical requirements for general workplaces. Specifically, employers must:

  1. Allow employees to voluntarily use facial coverings;
  2. Provide facial coverings at no cost to employees;
  3. Pay for the cost of COVID-19 tests as well as time and travel associated with taking the test, if the testing is conducted at the employer’s direction;
  4. Provide notice to employees who have had a potential work-related exposure to COVID-19 within 24 hours;
  5. Continue to optimize the use of ventilation systems to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission; and
  6. Follow Oregon Health Authority, public health, or medical provider recommendations for isolation or quarantine.

General workplaces are all workplaces that do not involve exceptional risk, such as direct patient care. Exceptional risk workplaces generally remain subject to OSHA’s COVID-19 Requirements for All Workplaces (sections 3 and 4). The contact tracing requirements under subsections 3(l) and 4(i), however, will no longer be applicable to law enforcement, personal care providers, and laboratories who work with human remains or tissue from individuals known or suspected to be infected with COVID-19. Finally, all remaining industry-specific and activity-specific guidance will be repealed, except those for Emergency Medical Services, First Responders, Firefighters, and Non-Emergency Medical Transport.

This new guidance raises several practical questions for employers, including: whether employers should require tests as an alternative or exception to vaccine policies, how to best implement an employee notification system, and how to update quarantine and isolation procedures. Given OSHA’s ongoing enforcement and the clear need for a safe workforce, we recommend employers consult with counsel to develop and adopt clearly written policies on these matters.

This update is prepared for the general information of our clients and friends. It should not be regarded as legal advice. If you have questions about the issues raised here, please contact any of the attorneys in our Labor & Employment Practice Group, or the attorney with whom you normally consult.

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