Quick recap. In January, the Supreme Court ruled against the Biden administration enforcing its vaccine-or-test requirements for large private companies.
This would have required workers at businesses with 100+ employees get vaccinated or submit a negative COVID test weekly to enter the workplace. It also required unvaccinated workers to wear masks indoors at work.
However, just because the Supreme Court ruled against this doesn’t imply (nor should it be taken in this context) that companies don’t need to take precautions.
COVID is still a hazard in the workplace and companies have an obligation under the General Duty clause to maintain a safe workplace; otherwise, you could be subject to OSHA fines.
Use Workplace Controls to Reduce Exposure
Companies have a duty to keep workers safe from hazards, one of which is COVID. OSHA continues to recommend implementing multiple layers of controls that will help protect the vaccinated and unvaccinated or other at-risk workers.
Create a safety plan that works for your organization. Customize it for YOUR work environment and YOUR workers. Some engineering and administrative controls you might consider to reduce exposure include:
- Install high-efficiency air filters, increase ventilation rates in the work environment, install physical barriers such as clear plastic sneeze guards.
- Encourage sick workers to stay at home, replace face-to-face meetings with virtual and/or telework options, offer other types of work schedules such as alternative days or staggered shifts, working the late or third shift when there are fewer people in the work area.
- Enable workers to maintain physical distance from one another, i.e., reconfigure workstations, post signs/mark floors with appropriate signage and/or distance.
- Have processes in place to remove all infected people and/or those experiencing COVID symptoms; implement a paid leave program.
- Train workers who need to use protective clothing and equipment how to put it on, use/wear it and take it off correctly to avoid contamination of self, others, and the environment.
State Safety Plans
More than 20 states operate their own workplace-safety plans, and some have implemented Covid safety requirements.
- California requires all employees and customers to wear masks indoors. Businesses must also implement Covid prevention plans, investigate outbreaks and notify employees within a day, and offer free testing to fully vaccinated employees among other measures.
- New York City has implemented a vaccine mandate for all private businesses.
- Chicago requires everyone older than 5 years of age to show proof of vaccination to eat indoors at restaurants, go to the gym, or enter indoor entertainment venues where food is served
Companies can also voluntarily implement the vaccine and testing rules.
• Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace
• Statement from Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh on Supreme Court Ruling
• General Duty Clause