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An emergency temporary standard to protect health care workers from contracting COVID-19 was issued today by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It will become effective when it is published in the Federal Register. Employers must comply with most provisions within 14 days of publication and the remaining provisions within 30 days.
OSHA simultaneously announced updated general industry guidance rather than an emergency temporary standard applicable to non-health care entities. Updates to Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace focus on protections for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers and ways to encourage employees to get vaccinated. The updated general workplace guidance is aimed at industries noted for prolonged close contact, such as meat and seafood processing, manufacturing facilities, grocery stores and high-volume retail establishments.
The emergency standard and the general industry updates both align with current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and may be modified as CDC recommendations change.
The health care standard applies to settings where employees provide health care or related support services to people to have or may have been exposed to COVID-19, including hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living and ambulatory care facilities, and emergency response and home health care agencies.
There are some exemptions for providers who screen out patients who may have COVID-19. The emergency standard also exempts fully vaccinated workers from wearing masks, practicing social distance and using barriers when in well-defined areas and there is no reasonable expectation of encountering a contagious person.
The standard will require covered employers to:
In addition, health care employees who have COVID-19 or who may be contagious must work remotely or otherwise be separated from other workers 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.
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