OSHA’s Missed Opportunity

November 15, 2021

On November 5, OSHA released an emergency temporary standard (ETS) that requires almost all private-sector employers with at least 100 full- or part-time employees institute policies that require employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo testing for COVID-19 at least every seven days and wear a face covering at work. While the Federal Appeals Court halted implementation of the mandate on November 12, the ETS dictates that these employers have until December 6 to put a vaccination policy in place, determine employees’ vaccination status, and require unvaccinated employees to wear face coverings. They have until January 4, 2022, to make sure that employees who are not fully vaccinated are regularly tested. 

MassCOSH welcomes the mandate as a positive step for keeping workers safe on the job. Occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 has made thousands of workers in Massachusetts sick and likely resulted in hundreds of fatalities. Undoubtably employment has played a major role in COVID-19 infection rates of workers. Yet the mandate is missing critical opportunities to require health and safety protections proven to save lives. Social distancing, improved ventilation, shift rotation, and protective equipment to reduce exposure are important components of an overall plan to reduce risk and stop the virus. However, the Biden Administration has decided to prioritize vaccination and these tools are missing from the ETS.  

While the ETS requires that employers provide paid time off separate from accrued sick and vacation time to get the vaccine, it allows the use of accrued sick time to recover from vaccine side effects. It also does not require employers to pay for testing if employees choose that option. Finally, MassCOSH is this ETS must be enforced for all public sector workers per our state’s public sector OSHA law, unlike the ETS for workers in healthcare facilities which the State unlawfully ignored.