Industry News

OSHA announces COVID-19 vaccination, testing standard

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 vaccination and testing. In a press release from the U.S. Department of Labor’s agency, OSHA stated the standard protects more than 84 million workers from the spread of the coronavirus on the job. Unvaccinated workers face grave danger from workplace exposure to coronavirus, and immediate action is necessary to protect them.

The COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing: Emergency Temporary Standard is effective immediately upon its publication in the Federal Register, expected Nov. 5. Employers must comply with most requirements within 30 days of publication and with testing requirements within 60 days of publication.

Under the emergency temporary standard, covered employers must develop, implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose either vaccination or regular COVID-19 testing and wear face coverings at work.

Since 2020, the coronavirus has led to the deaths of 750,000 people in the U.S. and the infection of millions more, making it the deadliest pandemic in U.S. history. Many people infected and killed by the coronavirus are workers whose primary exposures occurred at their jobs. OSHA estimates the rule will save thousands of lives and prevent more than 250,000 hospitalizations due to workplace exposure to COVID-19 during the course of the emergency temporary standard.

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said, “COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on workers, and we continue to see dangerous levels of cases. We must take action to implement this emergency temporary standard to contain the virus and protect people in the workplace against the grave danger of COVID-19. Many businesses understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated against COVID-19, and we expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect.”

The emergency temporary standard covers employers with 100 or more employees, firm-wide or company-wide, and has options for compliance. The emergency temporary standard requires employers to provide paid time to workers to be vaccinated and paid leave to recover from side effects.

Additionally, the emergency temporary standard requires employers to:

  • Determine vaccination status of each employee, obtain acceptable proof of vaccination status from vaccinated employees, and maintain records and a roster of each employee’s vaccination status.
  • Require employees to provide prompt notice when they test positive for COVID-19 or receive a COVID-19 diagnosis. Employers must then remove the employee from the workplace, regardless of vaccination status; employers must not allow them to return to work until they meet required criteria.
  • Ensure each employee who is not fully vaccinated is tested for COVID-19 at least weekly (if the worker is in the workplace at least once a week) or within seven days before returning to work (if the employee is away from the workplace for a week or longer).
  • Ensure that, in most circumstances, each employee who has not been fully vaccinated wears a face covering when indoors or when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes.

The emergency temporary standard does not require employers to pay for testing. Employers may be required to pay for testing to comply with other laws, regulations, collective bargaining agreements, or other collectively negotiated agreements. Employers are not required to pay for face coverings.

Jim Frederick, deputy assistant secretary of labor at OSHA, said, “While vaccination remains the most effective and efficient defense against COVID-19, this emergency temporary standard will protect all workers including those who remain unvaccinated by requiring regular testing and the use of face coverings by unvaccinated workers to prevent the spread of the virus. As part of OSHA’s mission to protect the safety and health of workers, this rule will provide a roadmap to help businesses keep their workers safe.”

The emergency temporary standard covers two-thirds of the private-sector workforce in the U.S. In 26 states and two territories with OSHA state plans, the standard covers public sector workers employed by state and local governments including educators and school staff. Companies including airlines, manufacturers and retailers have taken similar actions including adopting vaccine requirements or regular testing as necessary measures to protect employees and customers.

OSHA offers compliance assistance to businesses to implement the standard including a webinar, frequently asked questions and other compliance materials.

Further, the emergency temporary standard serves as a proposal for normal rulemaking for a final standard. OSHA is seeking comment on all aspects of the standard and whether the agency should adopt it as a final standard.