Employers Beware! OSHA May Override CDC Mask Guidelines

Employers Beware! OSHA May Override CDC Mask Guidelines

(RightWing.org) – It’s a classic problem that many businesses often experience when it comes to government bureaucracies. One government agency’s rules might contradict another’s, and neither cares. Who’s stuck in the middle? You got it! The business that can’t win one way or the other. That scenario is playing out once again. Except this time, there’s a lot more at stake as employees and customers could get tangled up in the bureaucratic mess.

On May 13, the CDC issued new guidelines that recommended fully vaccinated individuals lose the mask with several exceptions. The CDC’s guidelines are “subject to federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” You probably didn’t hear or read that in the media. Now, it’s entirely possible that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could ignore the mask guidelines for vaccinated individuals. If so, many companies may be completely unaware of the workplace regulations regarding masks.

OSHA Has Primary Jurisdiction Over Workplaces

Just when you thought it was safe to take off the mask, here comes a federal agency with the power to tell you that you better not. The CDC’s caveat makes it clear that it can’t tell OSHA what to do, and the workplace safety agency’s regulations obligate employers to follow OSHA rules in the workplace.

If OSHA comes down on unsuspecting businesses, it could create confusion, chaos, and a lot of frustration.

Here’s the challenge…

OSHA’s last public guidelines were published on January 29, 2021. The 12-page document says it’s “advisory in nature,” and it doesn’t distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. However, OSHA is unclear on what guidance it’s offering for enforcement purposes. According to the employer safety agency, its COVID-19 standards say it could still require incident reporting and record-keeping if someone gets sick on the job. It could require personal protective equipment (PPE) and enforce pandemic regulations at its discretion.

Does it seem a bit confusing?

If you think so, you’re not alone.

OSHA Not Embracing CDC Guidelines — Lawmakers Trying to Solve the Problem

The hard cold truth is that OSHA is not embracing the CDC guidelines, at least not yet. That could be troublesome for many employers getting the go-ahead to shed the masks from state and local governments. However, there’s that one pesky federal agency throwing a wrench into everything.

Fortunately, a group of Republican lawmakers is working to help employers navigate this minefield. Some House GOP members on the Committee on Education and Labor are aware of the problem. They sent Labor Secretary Marty Walsh a letter encouraging the Labor Department to update the department’s rules to align with the CDC’s guidance, and that specifically included OSHA.

The challenge with large bureaucracies is the lack of cross-communication and cooperation. While OSHA is likely to update its guidelines and regulations, who knows when that could be. In the meantime, employers should be aware of OSHA’s existing guidelines.

Don Purdum, Independent Political Analyst

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