May 17, 2021

OSHA Directs Employers to Follow CDC Mask Guidance

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Agency (“OSHA”) has issued a statement indicating that it is reviewing and revising its Workplace Guidance in light of the CDC announcement last week regarding mask requirements for vaccinated individuals.  In additions, OSHA has instructed employers to follow the new CDC Covid-19 recommendations until OSHA can revise its own guidance. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a website update Monday that it is “reviewing the recent CDC guidance and will update our materials on this website accordingly.” Until then, it said, employers and workers should refer to the CDC guidance for information “on measures appropriate to protect fully vaccinated workers.”

Many employers are reassessing their Covid-19 safety protocols, which are required by OSHA, after federal health officials at the CDC issued more permissive masking guidelines last week. The CDC modified its recommendation for wearing face coverings in public settings to say that fully vaccinated Americans can largely go without masks.  Notable exceptions to the recommendations are that masks should still be worn where required by state or local law, an employer, or a private place of business, and in certain close proximity and high risk circumstances such as while flying on planes, riding public transportation, and visiting health-care facilities.  These recommendations are at odds with existing OSHA Guidelines which recommend face coverings for all employees, and social distancing wherever possible.  Based on OSHA’s Monday morning announcement, OSHA seems to be instructing employers that it may begin following the CDC recommendations immediately while OSHA revises its guidelines.

Key recommendations in the CDC document are as follows:

Fully vaccinated people can:

  1. Resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance
  2. Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel
  3. Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States
  4. Refrain from testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic, with some exceptions for specific settings
  5. Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic
  6. Refrain from routine screening testing if feasible.

Because employers are responsible for providing a safe place of employment for their employees, any employers who relax masking and social distancing requirements for vaccinated employees should require proof of vaccination–either a copy of the vaccination card provided by the vaccination site, or a sworn statement from the employee of their complete vaccination. If an employee declines to say whether they are vaccinated, they should be treated as if they are not, and must comply with masks and social distancing.  Employers should also monitor mask usage and social distancing for unvaccinated employees, and follow their discipline policy for any who fail to comply.

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