In his first full day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order designed to “take swift action to reduce the risk that workers may contract COVID-19 in the workplace.” The Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety, issued January 21, 2021, signals that more robust protections against COVID-19 for workers are forthcoming. But the order, which states that “ensuring the health and safety of workers is a national priority and a moral imperative,” is also likely a preview of the Biden administration’s more employee-friendly approach to workplace safety going forward.
New COVID-19 Workplace Guidance and Standards Likely
The order requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to take several actions designed to reduce the risk of COVID transmission in American workplaces, including:
- Issuing revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic within two weeks of the date of the order.
- Considering whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, including with respect to masks in the workplace, are necessary, and if such standards are determined to be necessary, issuing them by March 15, 2021.
- Reviewing OSHA’s enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 and identifying any short-, medium-, and long-term changes that it could make to protect workers better and ensure equity in enforcement.
- Launching a national program to focus OSHA enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 on violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk or are contrary to anti-retaliation principles.
- Coordinating with States to ensure that workers are adequately protected from COVID-19, consistent with any revised guidance or emergency temporary standards issued by OSHA.
What Emergency Standards Should Employers and Workers Expect?
In the probable event that OSHA issues new emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, they are likely to mirror many policies and protocols that several states have already adopted as part of their COVID-19 safety regimes. This includes requirements like mask-wearing and rules involving other personal protective equipment, social distancing, circulation of employees in limited numbers, requiring work from home when feasible, employee training, and sanitation. The new standards may also include industry-specific directives, such as those focused on the meatpacking industry and other sectors where COVID infection rates have been exceptionally high.
Contact Kreis Enderle With Questions About COVID-19 Safety Requirements
A new administration, a vaccine rollout, and a continuing pandemic mean that employers and employees face a continually changing workplace safety landscape over the coming months. The Employment Law and Business Lawattorneys at Kreis Enderle stay abreast of all COVID-19 developments and strive to keep our clients fully informed about their rights and obligations. If you have questions regarding COVID-19 in the workplace or any other aspects of how the pandemic impacts you, please contact Kreis Enderle today.