February 23, 2024

Omicron Checklist for Employers: Enhanced Protections to Help Meet This Moment

Stephen Massey
Managing Director, Health Action Alliance

We've updated our recommendations to help protect your business against the record surge in new cases and hospitalizations.

The Supreme Court’s decision last week to block OSHA’s emergency COVID-19 rules for employers of 100 or more workers effectively eliminates the federal government from imposing any vaccine or testing requirements on most businesses. (OSHA could try to draft a more tailored emergency rule, though it, too, would almost certainly be met by a legal challenge.) There is a notable exception: the Court upheld a regulation issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that mandates vaccines for almost all employees at hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers that receive federal funds. Meanwhile, the vaccine requirement for federal contractors is still on hold, pending a separate legal challenge.

Legal battles aside, employers in most states are still free to move forward with their own vaccine requirements. Employer-initiated vaccination requirements were, in fact, the basis for OSHA’s rules, and these requirements have been extraordinarily effective at raising vaccination rates. New data from United Airlines show how those vaccination rates translate to worker safety:

  • No employee deaths from COVID-19 in the eight weeks since its vaccination requirement went into effect, compared to 1 death per week before the requirement;
  • A hospitalization rate that is 100 times lower than the national average.

Companies that took steps over the past months to prepare for OSHA’s rules should not let that effort go to waste. Your companies are more resilient for future waves of COVID-19 as a result of policies like paid time off for vaccination, vaccination requirements and masking or testing of unvaccinated employees. The systems you put in place will serve your workers well for keeping up to date with vaccinations through this pandemic and future public health crises.

Whether your company already has a vaccination policy in place or not, here are steps you can take right now to protect the health of your workers and your business:

  1. Make it easier for employees to get vaccinated and boosted, either on-site at the workplace or in the community, by offering paid time off for vaccinations and recovery. Make it easier for working parents to vaccinate eligible children (5 and up for vaccination; 12 and up for boosters).
  2. Consider weekly testing for all employees, regardless of vaccination status, at in-person job sites.  
  3. Help your workers access free at-home tests. Beginning today, January 18, every home in the U.S. can order four free at-⁠home COVID-⁠19 tests through covidtests.gov. Those tests will be completely free—no shipping costs, no need to enter a credit card number.
  4. Help your workers navigate reimbursable home tests. As of January 15, private health insurers are required to cover the costs of up to eight COVID-19 tests per month. Make sure employees know what your health plans require of them, which may include keeping the test box, as well as receipts, or buying from in-network stores. (For workers who may not have private health insurance, employers should consider covering the cost of weekly testing.)
  5. Support employees’ ability to quarantine for five days if they have been exposed by allowing them to stay away from others. Encourage them to wear a well-fitting mask, even after five days of isolation.
  6. Support employees’ ability to isolate if they are sick or test positive, even if they do not have symptoms. And again, encourage them to wear a well-fitting mask, after those five days of isolation.
  7. Implement social distancing in all communal work areas for unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers.
  8. Require a mask indoors and provide workers with well-fitting masks. N95 and KN95-rated masks are the most effective.
  9. Communicate your COVID-19 policies and procedures using accessible formats and in languages they understand.
  10. Maintain and improve ventilation systems. Proper ventilation can be another part of your strategy to reduce the concentration of viral particles in the air.
  11. Perform routine cleaning and disinfection. If someone who has been in the workplace within 24 hours has tested positive for COVID-19 or has COVID-19 symptoms, follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
  12. Record and report COVID-19 infections and deaths to local public health authorities.
  13. Implement protections from retaliation and set up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards.