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Ridding the Workplace of COVID-19




The unexpected closure of workplaces following the declaration of the coronavirus pandemic introduced Americans to a new era of remote work for employers and employees alike. State of emergency orders instructed that working Americans stay home and stay safe from the pandemic, but that was only until we saw progress in the collective work of organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) aimed at navigating American workplaces amidst the pandemic.  

On September 9, 2021, the Biden administration announced a new COVID-19 Action Plan (Plan) to combat the ongoing pandemic in the country, with part of it committed to creating a safe environment for employees to enter the workplace again. Among other things, the plan includes advancing COVID-19 mitigation and response efforts through vaccination. OSHA estimates that the new vaccination rules will result in approximately 23 million individuals becoming vaccinated. 

On September 24, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Forced issued Guidance for Federal Contractors and Subcontractors. Under the guidance, federal contractors and subcontractors with a covered contract are required to conform to the following workplace safety protocols:  

COVID-19 vaccination of covered contractor employees, except in limited circumstances where an employee is legally entitled to an accommodation;  

Compliance by individuals, including covered contractor employees and visitors, with the Guidance related to masking and physical distancing while in covered contractor workplaces; and  

Designation by covered contractors of a person or persons to coordinate COVID-19 workplace safety efforts at covered contractor workplaces. 

The guidance applies to contractor or subcontractor workplace locations that are indoors and outdoors.  

On November 4, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released its highly anticipated COVID-19 Vaccination Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). Employers covered by the standard must develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, except for employers that instead adopt a policy requiring employees to either get vaccinated or choose to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work in lieu of vaccination.  

The ETS covers all employers with a total of 100 or more employees, except those covered under the September 9 Guidance or in settings where any employee provides healthcare services or healthcare support services.  

What does this mean for remote workers?  

In most instances, they will not be required to submit to any vaccine mandate. If they are required to enter the worksite, however, proof of vaccination or a negative test result may be required. Employers should also review and consider what, if any, accommodations it may offer to employees who seek a religious or medical exemption from the vaccine. 

Maria Fracassa Dwyer is the Member-in-Charge at Clark Hill’s Detroit Office.