Employer Fact Sheet
OSHA’s Updated Guidance on Protecting Unvaccinated and At-Risk Workers

Click here for printable version

Updated: June 16, 2021

On June 10, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its guidance on mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Recognizing the revised CDC standards on masks and social distancing for fully vaccinated people, the updated guidance is intended to help employers and workers not covered by OSHA's COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to identify COVID-19 exposure risks to workers who are unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk, and to help them take appropriate steps to prevent exposure and infection.

In a workplace with mixed-vaccination status employees, employers should still take steps to protect unvaccinated or otherwise at-risk workers in their workplaces, or well-defined portions of workplaces. Unless otherwise required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, most employers no longer need to take steps to protect their fully vaccinated workers who are not otherwise at-risk from COVID-19 exposure.

The Role of Employers in Keeping the Workplace Safe

Under the Section 5 of the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. OSHA’s updated guidance highlights the unique position of employers to ensure a safe return-to-work and minimize COVID-19 transmission. In the case of a partially vaccinated workplace, it recommends “multi-layered interventions” for employers, including:

OSHA’s updated guidance also reiterates that employers should follow all other applicable mandatory OSHA standards, including requirements for PPE, respiratory protection, sanitation, protection from bloodborne pathogens, and employee access to medical records. 

These recommendations are advisory in nature and informational in content, and are intended to assist employers in recognizing and abating hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm as part of their obligation to provide a safe and healthful workplace. This guidance is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations.

Precautions for Higher-Risk Workplaces 

The agency provides further recommendations for higher-risk workplaces, such as manufacturing, high volume retail and grocery, and food processing. Under the Guidance, in addition to the steps outlined above, higher-risk workplaces should: 

Mandatory Standards for Healthcare Settings & Public Transportation

While this guidance addresses many workplaces, many healthcare workplace settings will be covered by the mandatory OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard.  

The CDC requires all people to wear masks on public transportation (e.g., airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares, ferries, ships, trolleys, and cable cars) into or within the United States. This includes all personnel operating public transportation and workers at transportation hubs, including airports, bus stations, seaports and U.S. ports of entry.

Public health guidance on COVID-19 is constantly evolving. Health Action Alliance is committed to regularly updating our materials once we've engaged public health, business and communications experts about the implications of new guidance from the public health community and effective business strategies that align with public health goals. Together, we can turn the tide against COVID-19 and build a stronger, healthier future.