On August 13, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) issued detailed updated guidance on appropriate measures for protecting employees in workplaces staffed with both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers.  Importantly, OSHA is now recommending that employers in geographical areas of substantial or high community transmission with mixed-vaccination status employees should require all employees, including fully vaccinated workers, to wear masks “whenever possible,” which OSHA did not define.

The new OSHA guidance also identifies higher-risk workplaces as those where unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers are working close to one another, particularly for prolonged periods or without adequate ventilation, or where employees share employer-provided transportation.  In such settings, OSHA prescribes that:

  • All workers, including fully vaccinated workers, should maintain six feet of distance at all times;
  • Fully vaccinated workers who have close contacts with people with coronavirus should wear masks for up to 14 days unless they have a negative coronavirus test at least 3-5 days after such contact;
  • Employers should consider whether to require masks for customers and other visitors, especially in areas of substantial or high community transmission.

The new OSHA guidelines also provide specific guidance for employers with high-volume retail workplaces, employer-provided transportation, meat, poultry, and seafood processing settings, manufacturing facilities and assembly line operations involving unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers.

OSHA’s new recommendations are in addition to its already existing guidance.  OSHA continues to emphasize that vaccination is the optimal step to protect workers.  The full text of OSHA’s updated guidance is available here.

Employers should recognize that OSHA’s new guidance represents a shift towards requiring employers to implement measures protecting their unvaccinated workers from potential risks posed by vaccinated employees.  Employers’ safety analyses should be sure to incorporate protective procedures for all workers, including unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers, from COVID-19.