Mask or No Mask?

By: Dan Burke and Laura Caty

OSHA updated its workplace COVID guidance last week to align with CDC’s recent recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals.  This development presents a further wrinkle for businesses wrestling with whether to reinstate an across-the-board mask mandate in the workplace, regardless of vaccination status.

Recall that on June 10, OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard aimed towards protecting employees in the health care sector from COVID (see previous blog post). OSHA’s guidance issued last week is primarily directed towards fully vaccinated workers in non-health care settings, leaving undisturbed its previous guidance for unvaccinated individuals. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19 two weeks or more after they have received the final dose of the vaccine.

OSHA’s most significant  recommendations in this new guidance are that fully vaccinated workers:

  • Should wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission;
  • Should consider wearing a mask regardless of level of transmission, particularly if they are at a higher risk or have someone in their household who is at a higher risk; and
  • Should get tested 3 to 5 days following a known exposure to COVID and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.

Importantly, OSHA recommends in this newly-issued guidance that employers consider adopting mandatory vaccination policies or, in the alternative, policies that require employees to undergo regular COVID testing.

OSHA’s new guidance also details additional precautions for employers in higher-risk workplaces, including manufacturing; meat, seafood and poultry processing; high-volume retail and grocery; and agricultural processing.

Key takeaways for employers are:

  • Although these are only recommendations, they represent best practices that OSHA expects employers to implement, particularly in higher-risk workplaces, including workplaces with a low employee vaccination rate.
  • It is important to know the vaccination rate in your workforce, as that data point will inform your decisions about vaccination and mask policies. Employers have the right to ask employees if they are vaccinated and to provide proof of vaccination (which  of course must be maintained in the employee’s confidential medical file).
  • OSHA is stepping up its enforcement efforts, particularly as it relates to COVID, so employers should review their workplace health and safety policies and practices now so they are prepared in the event that OSHA comes knocking.

Graydon stands ready to assist you in navigating the choppy waters of this pandemic.