News & Insights

COVID-19April 6, 2021by Stanton LawContinued COVID-19 Precautions in the Workplace

Recently released guidance from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promotes continued COVID-19-related safety precautions in the workplace. On one hand, the CDC’s updated guidance slightly relaxes its recommendations for fully vaccinated people. OSHA, however, has not made any significant changes to its COVID-19-related safety guidance – and remember – OSHA is the federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace safety standards.

EEOC: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released COVID-19 vaccine-related guidance that explains, among other things, that employers are permitted to ask employees if they have been vaccinated.

  • If the answer is “yes”: Employers may ask for proof (e.g., vaccine confirmation card).
  • If the answer is “no”: There are limits on your ability to ask, “why not.”
  • Employers may require vaccination as a prerequisite for entering the workplace (with religious and disability-based accommodations).


OSHA: The agency has recently taken two significant new actions to enhance its enforcement actions regarding COVID-19 workplace safety: (1) establishing a national program to target higher-hazard industries for enforcement action; and (2) updating and replacing its enforcement plan to prioritize in-person worksite inspections.

Remember OSHA’s Mantra. The first step in any workplace safety hazard assessment is to eliminate the hazard. Overall, the OSHA guidance instructs employers not to distinguish between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not. As far as OSHA is concerned, employers should continue to separate infected or potentially infected people or send them home from the workplace infected or potentially infected people from the workplace.
Masks. For now, the CDC nor OSHA continue to recommend that all employees, whether vaccinated or not, wear masks while at work. Unfortunately, vaccinated employees may begin pressuring employers to relax workplace protocols such as mask mandates. For the time being, employers should tread cautiously when responding to such requests.

Some key employer takeaways from the CDC’s new guidance:

          1. According to the CDC, employees are considered fully vaccinated:
            weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, or
            weeks after a single-dose vaccine.
          2. So long as they experience no symptoms, fully vaccinated employees do not need to quarantine after COVID-19 exposure.
            Hopefully, this will help alleviate staffing shortages and some stress for businesses. Fully vaccinated employees should still be monitored for symptoms for 14 days following a known or suspected exposure.
          3. The guidance is different for employees who work in congregate settings or other high-density workplaces.
            Although quarantine is no longer recommended, fully vaccinated employees in high-density workplaces (such as meat and poultry processing and manufacturing plants) who have been exposed to COVID-19 should be tested and screened for symptoms.
          4. Fully vaccinated employees must follow the same travel restrictions as those who are not fully vaccinated.Beyond its recommendation that individuals wait two weeks after vaccination before traveling, the CDC specifically declined to update its current travel recommendations as it relates to vaccination status. 


“But the CDC said we could.” While the OSHA standards may eventually take into account the CDC guidance and the impact of the vaccine rollout, it would be imprudent to plan a defense against a lawsuit or an OSHA enforcement action based on non-binding CDC publications. 

Local Changes. Some states have begun rolling back mask mandates and related COVID-19 restrictions. However, the recission of local and state government mandates will not serve as a defense should lax protections lead to employee or customer injury. What is considered reasonable behavior with respect to workplace COVID-19 precautions will continue to be measured against CDC, EEOC, and OSHA guidelines. 

Communication. While employers should be prepared for increased resistance from employees and customers to comply with safety precautions, employers should communicate clear expectations to employees and stand firm on the necessity of implementing necessary restrictions in response to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Employers should consider reminding employees – and responsible supervisors – that compliance is mandatory and violations will lead to discipline. 

Risk Tolerance. Ultimately, employers will make decisions based on the level of risk they are willing to tolerate. Those decisions, however, should be informed and up to date, and they should include the potential enforcement risks associated with the various local, state, and federal agencies. 

The past year highlighted the importance of agility and patience. This year is shaping up in a similar manner. We will continue to provide updates on the EEOC, OSHA, and CDC’s most recent recommendations for both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees as more information becomes available. If you have questions or need assistance navigating the latest developments, please reach out to a Stanton Law employment attorney.