OSHA Issues Emergency Standard on COVID-19 Protections 

Situation Report | June 14, 2021

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced it will issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect health care workers from contracting coronavirus. The standard focuses on health care workers most likely to have contact with someone infected with the virus.

The standard, along with a fact sheet and comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions document, is here.

The emergency temporary standard establishes new requirements for settings where employees provide health care or health care support services, including skilled nursing homes and home health care, with some exemptions for health care providers who screen out patients who may have COVID-19. OSHA will update the standard, if necessary, to align with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and changes in the pandemic.

The standard will require non-exempt facilities to conduct a hazard assessment and have a written plan to mitigate virus spread. It requires health care employers to provide some employees with N95 respirators or other personal protective equipment. In addition, covered employers must ensure six feet of distance between workers. In situations where this is not possible, employers should erect barriers between employees where feasible.

The standard also requires covered employees to provide workers with paid time off to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects. Covered employees who have coronavirus or who may be contagious must work remotely or otherwise be separated from other workers if possible, or be given paid time off up to $1,400 per week. For most businesses with fewer than 500 employees, tax credits in the American Rescue Plan may be reimbursed through these provisions.

The ETS exempts fully vaccinated workers from masking, distancing and barrier requirements when in well-defined areas where there is no reasonable expectation that any person will be present with suspected or confirmed coronavirus.

The ETS is effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register. Employers must comply with most provisions within 14 days and with the remaining provisions within 30 days. OSHA will use its enforcement discretion to avoid citing employers who miss a compliance deadline but are making a good-faith effort to comply with the ETS.

OSHA will continue to monitor trends in COVID-19 infections and deaths as more of the workforce and the general population become vaccinated and the pandemic continues to evolve. Where OSHA finds a grave danger from the virus no longer exists for the covered workforce (or some portion thereof), or new information indicates a change in measures necessary to address the grave danger, OSHA will update the ETS, as appropriate.

Some of these requirements address areas of workplace infectious disease control that are similarly addressed in a new state law, called the New York Health and Essential Rights Act, or NY HERO Act and other existing state requirements. New York State also separately requires paid sick leave for coronavirus as well as paid leave to get vaccinated and recover from any vaccine side effects. HCA will be seeking to determine whether compliance with the new OSHA requirements, the HERO Act, New York’s paid leave requirements, and other state mandates can be met using a common set of standards.