The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued new guidance that dictates how employers should handle unvaccinated and at-risk employees. These guidelines are meant to help employers who are adjusting to having a partially vaccinated workforce, especially those who are transitioning back from remote work to working at an office. Employers should be mindful of this guidance, especially as it might affect their own liability in the event that an employee becomes infected with COVID on the job.
What is This New OSHA Guidance?
The new OSHA guidance instructs employers on how to handle employees who are either currently unvaccinated against COVID-19 or who are at-risk of COVID infection. Unvaccinated employees are those who either have yet to be vaccinated, or who cannot be vaccinated for some reason. At-risk employees are those with medical issues that cause them to get reduced protection from vaccinations, meaning they remain at risk of coronavirus infection despite being vaccinated.
What Should Employers Do With Unvaccinated or At-Risk Employees?
In effect, the new OSHA guidance tells employers to continue treating unvaccinated and at-risk employees as though they were still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. This means enforcing strict standards for personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing to minimize the risk of infection. For vaccinated individuals, however, they may work unimpeded without any special precautions other than those already required for their professions.
In addition, OSHA advises employers to give employees time off to get vaccinated if they request it, and to ensure that any employees with COVID symptoms stay home. Employees should also stay home if they are unvaccinated or at-risk and have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This is to minimize the risk of spreading the disease to other unvaccinated and at-risk individuals.
Why is it Important to Follow This Guidance?
Employers who fail to properly accommodate unvaccinated and at-risk employees may put both their employees and their customers at risk of COVID infection. While the virus may be slowly receding, it is still prevalent enough that vulnerable people could suffer an infection. This, in turn, could create legal liabilities for businesses who may still be struggling from the economic impact of COVID-19. Thus, continue to use PPE and social distancing, at least for these vulnerable employees, which can help protect you and your employees from harm.
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