The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, on Thursday updated its guidance on COVID-safety standards in the workplace, leaving restaurant employers to decide how to identify who is and who is not vaccinated.
Following updated guidance from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention last month that eased mask and social distancing mandates for those fully vaccinated, OSHA said employers only need to focus on protecting those who are unvaccinated, or otherwise at-risk.
OSHA’s new guidelines state that vaccination is key in protecting workers, and the agency encourages employers to allow workers time off to get the shot. Employers no longer have to take steps to protect their workers from COVID exposure when all employees are fully vaccinated, the guidance said.
But employers still need to protect the unvaccinated, including physically distancing them from others and from unvaccinated or at-risk customers. That means continuing measures such as allowing remote work where possible, using transparent shields or barriers in fixed workspaces and requiring masks and providing protective gear.
The guidance, however, does not advise employers on how to determine whether workers are vaccinated or not.
The guidelines also “suggest” that unvaccinated customers in retail establishments wear face masks, even if not required by local authorities.
Similar moves to ease workplace restrictions are being made at the state level, adding to the confusion.
In California, for example, some mask requirements were scheduled to disappear on June 15 when certain COVID restrictions are expected to lift. For the general public, masks will only be required in certain settings, including on public transit, indoors at K-12 schools, in healthcare and correctional facilities and homeless shelters — though masks will still be required for unvaccinated people in restaurants and other retail settings.
Businesses are left to decide whether to require all patrons to wear masks, verify vaccination status in some way or to trust the unvaccinated to comply with mask mandates.
For workers, Cal/OSHA, California’s workplace-safety agency, also began the process of moving away from emergency COVID-prevention mandates.
But the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board decided to hold off until a future date — potentially at the next meeting on June 17 — to allow time to review OSHA’s mask guidance. In the meantime, earlier restrictions, like mask wearing, COVID tests, quarantining and other workplace-safety measures remain in effect.
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout