According to a January 29th US Department of Labor news release, “President Biden directed OSHA to release clear guidance for employers to help keep workers safe from COVID-19 exposure.” As a result, the US Department of Labor has reintroduced specific guidance to assist employers and workers to identify and lessen their risks of being exposed to and/or contracting COVID-19 in the workplace.
The guidance does not create new legal obligations and is given as advisory information only. Employers still must provide a safe and healthy workplace, free from recognized hazards that could cause harm. The Department of Labor would like all employers to implement a COVID-19 Prevention Program. These revised guidelines encourage engaging workers more by assigning a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for employee related COVID issues and questions. It emphasizes the need to identify and to prevent areas of exposure of COVID to all employees, especially those who may be at higher risk for severe illness, such as the elderly or immune-deficient. Communication is primary, with the DOL asking employers to educate, train, and provide information in a language the employee can fully understand, whether it be through sign-language or in a foreign language, if English is not their native language. The guidance also provides for minimizing the negative impact isolation and quarantine can have on an employee’s well-being, as well as providing an anonymous process for workers to voice their concerns about COVID-related hazards.
The main points within the news release center on:
- Conduct a hazard assessment.
- Identify control measures to limit the spread of the virus.
- Adopt policies for employee absences that don’t punish workers as a way to encourage potentially infected workers to remain home.
- Ensure that coronavirus policies and procedures are communicated to both English and non-English speaking workers.
- Implement protections from retaliation for workers who raise coronavirus-related concerns.
The use of masks and maintaining 6’ of distance is still the standard rule, even if you are vaccinated. Detailed instructions on cleaning the workplace, how long to quarantine, when to return to work, keeping records, and reporting infections are covered in the link below. The US Department of Labor will continue to update its guidance as developments in science, standards, and best practices are revised.