New federal COVID-19 safety rules exempt most employers

The rules require employers to draw up a virus protection plan and tighten requirements for the recording and reporting of COVID-19 cases among workers. They also require employers to provide paid time off to workers for COVID-19-related absences, including recovering from the side effects of vaccinations and shots.

Instead of issuing mandatory rules for other workplaces, the Biden administration issued new non-binding guidance that relaxed some of the recommendations. Most workplaces where people have been fully vaccinated are no longer required to provide any protection against the coronavirus, according to guidelines issued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the federal agency responsible for protecting workers. In a separate sequence, the Biden government also lifted the 25% cap on employer capacity inside federal buildings, although it maintained flexible remote work policies.

Many stores and other companies are already easing mask and other safety policies in response to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it also represents a step back from President Joe Biden’s earlier indications that he would refuse to issue mandatory safety rules for workers in the Trump administration.

Mark Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 1.3, said the new standard “represents a broken promise for the millions of American workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants who have become ill and have been affected by this pandemic.” died on the front.” Million workers said in a statement.

Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA official who now works at the National Employment Law Project, said the new rules fail to protect many low-wage workers, such as slaughterhouse workers who work side by side on production lines. We do.

Biden raised hopes for an emergency standard covering all workplaces when he signed an executive order shortly after taking office, giving OSHA until March 15 to issue the rules. But the Labor Department missed that deadline, and the landscape around the pandemic changed, with vaccination rates soaring and the CDC relaxing its own guidance around distancing and masking.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh cited the changed reality and new CDC guidance Tuesday at a House Education and Labor Committee hearing where he faced questions from Democratic lawmakers about why the standard would not cover workers outside health care.

OSHA had no rules for workplaces to navigate disease outbreaks on the scale of an epidemic. While some state agencies issued temporary emergency standards, the Trump administration only issued guidance on how employers should protect workers.

Labor advocates hoped the new federal standards would signal Biden’s commitment to strengthen OSHA, which has been criticized for conducting some oversight and issuing fewer citations on complaints related to COVID.

In the statement, US Rep. Bobby Scott, the Democratic chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, criticized the new standard as “too little, too late for countless workers and families across the country.”

OSHA said the standard, which would be for six months, was reasonable for healthcare workers because the virus poses a “grave threat” to them. The agency noted that nearly 500,000 health care workers have contracted the virus as of May 24 and more than 1,600 of them had died.

Jonathan Snyer, former acting assistant secretary of OSHA during the George W. Bush administration, said federal oversight must prove that a situation poses a “grave threat” when emergency temporary standards are issued. He said the Biden administration is likely to face legal challenges from other workplaces if it enacts tighter rules as the pandemic begins to ease.

Brian Kropp, head of research at consulting firm Gartner’s human resources practice, said, however, that many employers had expected a firmer set of rules since the start of the pandemic. The latest non-binding guidance adds more uncertainty, especially for companies about when and how to bring employees back to offices, Krop said.

For example, only a small fraction of companies plan to ask employees about their vaccination status before returning to work. Krop said this makes it difficult for companies to decide whether they can waive safety standards for vaccinated employees. The new guidelines say employers should enforce distancing and provide masks for unvaccinated workers, customers and visitors.

“What employers want are simplicity and clarity and hard rules that they can follow,” Krop said. “It allows them to say they’re just following the rules, rather than having a tough conversation with employees about one set of activities versus another. It lets them pass the buck.”


Associated Press writer Josh Funk in Omaha, Nebraska contributed to this story.


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