CDC Guidance Spurs Quick Readjustment for OSHA and Employers

Carissa Davis and Pat Miller

On May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) issued new guidance announcing that fully vaccinated people generally do not need to wear a mask or physically distance in most settings, except where required by federal, state, or local laws and regulations. The CDC continues to recommend that, regardless of vaccination status, people still wear masks in some circumstances, such as while using mass transportation and visiting healthcare facilities.

While the CDC made clear that businesses and workplaces could continue to impose their own requirements, the announcement resulted in widespread speculation on whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) would adjust its guidance. With surprising speed, OSHA responded.

Citing the CDC’s new guidance, OSHA announced on Monday May 17th that it is “reviewing the recent CDC guidance and will update… the website accordingly.” Until the website reflects these updates, OSHA recommends that employers refer to the CDC guidance “on measures appropriate to protect fully vaccinated workers.” With this announcement, OSHA gave the green light for employers to look directly at the CDC for workplace safety guidance. OSHA’s announcement effectively eliminated one hurdle employers face when promulgating workplace mask policies. While employers should continue to adhere to state and local guidance, the CDC’s and OSHA’s announcements will undoubtedly inspire some of those authorities to modify their approach as well.

It is unclear what this development means for OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard, which still has not been released.

Stay tuned for more fast-paced COVID-19 developments and much-needed good news for employers.