Are you confused over what the latest guidance regarding masks and those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 means for employers? Thankfully, one safety organization asked for clarification from OSHA, and the agency responded.
The American Industrial Hygienist Association (AIHA) asked OSHA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to clarify the guidance and OSHA responded saying, “Refer to the CDC guidance for information on measures appropriate to protect fully vaccinated workers.”
Uh, thanks for clearing that up, I guess.
To be clear, the AIHA asked OSHA and the CDC to “clarify what this new guidance means for workers and employers, and how they could implement it,” and OSHA responded with “refer to the CDC guidance” for the time being.
So what does that mean exactly?
New CDC trumps old OSHA
According to law firm Seyfarth Shaw, it means OSHA has temporarily adopted the CDC guidance that says individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can stop wearing masks or maintaining social distance “in the vast majority of indoor and outdoor settings, regardless of crowd size.”
However, OSHA’s older guidance that encouraged masks and social distancing is still present on the agency’s website, albeit with a red banner at the top indicating the CDC’s May 13, 2021 guidance trumps OSHA’s past guidance.
The agency also says this is a temporary measure and that official OSHA guidance is forthcoming.
City, state complications
Of course, the CDC guidance also says the fully-vaccinated must continue to abide by existing state, local or tribal laws and regulations, and applicable workplace guidance.
That mandate has also caused some confusion as some cities have taken different stances on this than their home states, according to CNN.
Baltimore, for example, is continuing to require masks – even if you’re fully vaccinated – until at least 65% of the city’s adult population is fully vaccinated, but Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced the end of the statewide mask mandate at the beginning of May.
The bottom line, though, is when it comes to enforcement by federal OSHA, Seyfarth Shaw doesn’t “anticipate OSHA to try to establish liability based on alleged exposures from vaccinated, asymptomatic employees.”
The law firm also suggests that employers may want to take into account some non-safety considerations, including:
- how to internally enforce the requirement that only fully vaccinated individuals can go maskless
- whether the employers’ policies may lead to disparate treatment or negatively impact morale, and
- does implementing the guidance maintain uniform corporate protocols.