Now that COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more widely available in the U.S. and a larger percentage of individuals have been vaccinated, the perception also seems to be growing that employees, now protected against the virus, can just stop wearing their face coverings while in the workplace. Not so, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA is responsible for the enforcement of federal workplace safety laws, which require covered employers to “provide their workers with a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
On January 29, 2021, OSHA issued new guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, reminding employers that to promote a workplace with reduced COVID risks, employees should continue to wear a face covering and maintain physical distancing while at work, even after being vaccinated “because it is not known at this time how vaccination affects transmissibility.”
OSHA’s new guidance mirrors a recent update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which advised that face masks in the workplace should continue to be the standard, since it is not yet clear whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent an individual from spreading COVID-19 to other people, even if they do not get sick themselves.
At the state level, Virginia is one of a handful of jurisdictions that has adopted comprehensive COVID-19 workplace safety regulations. They are applicable to virtually all private-sector employers in Virginia. Newly implemented, the COVID-19 regulations require appropriate employee respiratory protection in all work environments where there is more than “minimal occupational contact,” which is defined as “very limited, brief, and infrequent contact with employees or other persons at the place of employment.”
“Face coverings” are the least protective form of respiratory protection under the Virginia regulations, and are defined as a protective item “made of two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric that fits snugly against the sides of the face without any gaps, completely covering the nose and mouth and fitting securely under the chin.” Face coverings may be used only in lower risk workplaces. More robust respiratory protection against COVID is required in medium, high, and very high risk work environments. The Virginia regulations do not exempt vaccinated employees from wearing appropriate respiratory protection while at work.
With lingering uncertainties over whether, or to what extent, vaccinated employees can still spread COVID-19 to those around them in the workplace, federal guidance and Virginia regulations requiring appropriate respiratory protections are likely to continue in place well into 2021. In other words, don’t ditch those face masks just yet.
If you have questions on Virginia’s COVID-19 workplace safety regulations or need any assistance, please contact Doug Taylor at (703) 525-4000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain or convey legal advice. Consult a lawyer. Any views or opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily the views of any client.