Updated OSHA guidelines
On June 10, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) released their much-anticipated updated instructions as many states in the US begin “reopening” and lifting COVID-19 restrictions. The guide reminded all employers that they are obliged under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to create a safe and healthy workplace that is free from recognized hazards that can lead to death or serious physical harm.
OSHA’s updated guidance further explains that employers no longer need to take steps to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace if all Employees are fully vaccinated. However, employers should continue to take the steps recommended by the CDC to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at risk workers, including providing face masks to unvaccinated or otherwise at risk workers to instruct unvaccinated workers who have symptoms of COVID-19 from work Staying home, implementing physical distancing for unvaccinated workers in communal work areas and training employees in the company’s COVID-19 guidelines, among other things. The OSHA Guideline also reminds employers that they are required to continue to record all work-related cases of COVID-19 in the OSHA Form 300 logs, as appropriate.
Illinois enters phase 5
Immediately after OSHA released its updated guidance on June 11, 2021, Illinois entered Phase 5 of the “Restore Illinois” response to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning all sectors of the Illinois economy are now without capacity can resume boundaries.
Just before the state entered Phase 5, the Illinois Department of Public Health (“IDPH”) issued updated guidance for businesses and venues moving through the “New Normal” in Phase 5 January 2021, “Preliminary Recommendations for the Public Health for Fully Vaccinated Individuals ”for Illinois, when everyone in attendance is fully vaccinated, face covering and social distancing will no longer be required indoors or outdoors. However, unvaccinated individuals should continue to wear face coverings and keep a social distance of two meters indoors and in crowded outdoor areas. In addition, the guidelines indicate that in certain circumstances all individuals, including those who are fully vaccinated, must continue to wear a mask in accordance with CDC guidelines, namely: (1) on public transport; (2) in assembly facilities; and (3) in healthcare facilities. On May 28, 2021, the Chicago Department of Health released a statement confirming that the city of Chicago will follow instructions from the state, including eliminating the need for masks for vaccinated residents and / or eliminating the need for social distancing measures as noted above .
While these guidelines do away with masking and social distancing requirements as a statewide requirement, it also indicates that companies are free to implement stricter guidelines, such as the continuation of masking requirements, if they so choose. The guide also strongly encourages businesses and venues to continue to support social distancing whenever possible, especially indoors, although it is no longer required.
General considerations for employers
With the state reopening, employers may be able to require employees to return to their physical place of work. Before doing so, employers should carefully review their employee vaccination practices and federal, state, and local government guidelines on safety precautions required for unvaccinated employees. It is important that employers who issue guidelines on vaccination, return to physical work, and other return to work considerations ensure that these guidelines are clear and easy to understand for their employees, and take into account their legal obligations to adequately accommodate people based on medical conditions or sincere religious beliefs.