What can employers expect next in terms of COVID legislation and oversight? Since President Biden took office, he has signed a number of Executive Orders relating to COVID-19 as well as a detailed, if not ambitious, 200-page National Strategy For The COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness (the “Plan”). The purpose of The Plan is to “provide a roadmap to guide America out of the worst public health crisis in a century” and lays out seven goals to achieve that objective. The Plan’s efforts will be run through the newly established COVID-19 Response Office.
The Plan’s success “requires sustained, coordinated, and complementary efforts of … groups across the country, including … health care providers; businesses; manufacturers critical to the supply chain, communities of color, and unions”; thereby affecting employers across the US.
The key provisions applicable to employers include:
OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard: Through The Plan as well as Executive Orders, the Biden administration has directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an “Emergency Temporary Standard” that would require employers to implement certain pandemic-related health and safety measures, such as mask-wearing and social distancing while workers are on the clock. Recently, OSHA published its “Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace,” possibly foretelling what the Emergency Temporary Standard will require. Employers should consult legal counsel to ensure they are meeting current recommended workplace safety protocols and the Emergency Temporary Standard.
OSHA National Emphasis Program: The Plan strongly encourages OSHA to fortify its enforcement efforts and to launch a National Emphasis Program. The aim of this group is to focus the agency’s enforcement resources on workplace violations that OSHA believes put the largest number of workers at serious risk of illness. Many assume these efforts will be focused on larger retailers, grocery stores, health care workers and those serving critical infrastructure. Congress is expected to soon apportion additional funding for these OSHA enforcement efforts.
Dissemination of PPE, Testing and Vaccinations for Essential Workers: Under The Plan, the Biden administration has stated their intent to work with federal and state agencies to invest in and purchase large quantities of PPE for frontline workers.
The Plan calls for a vast expansion of testing capabilities and for accelerating the pace of vaccine production and distribution, with an emphasis on vaccinating frontline and essential workers first. Additionally, The Plan pledges to provide employers with educational tools about the benefits of vaccinations, which may help reduce skepticism among employees about COVID-19 vaccines.
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