U.S. Department of Labor Issues COVID-19 Safety Standards for Healthcare-Sector Employers

On June 10, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a long- and highly-anticipated emergency rule setting workplace safety parameters for employers in the healthcare sector that, once published in the Federal Register, will remain in effect throughout the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The rule, which largely tracks recent guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, requires covered employers to maintain social distancing protocols, ensure proper screening of patients for COVID-19 symptoms, and provide paid time off to employees to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects from the shots.  Among myriad other requirements contained within the more than 900-page rule, covered employers must also screen workers prior to their shifts, provide masks and other personal protective equipment, and implement ventilation protocols for workers treating COVID-19 patients.

However, per the rule, employers need not enforce many of the above-referenced safety measures for employees who are fully vaccinated, so long as the employers maintain “well-defined areas” trafficked only by such employees and where people who have or could potentially have COVID-19 are not reasonably expected to be present.

Additionally, the DOL rule requires employers to remove from workplaces any employee who tests positive for COVID-19, is suspected of being infected, or is symptomatic for defined periods of time.  In those cases, healthcare employers with ten or more employees must continue paying employees their full salaries (capped at $1,400 per week) for the first two weeks they are absent, even if the employees cannot work remotely.  To be sure, this amount may vary for absences longer than two weeks.

While some healthcare employers have derided the new rule as creating an unnecessary regulatory burden, it has been well-received by unions and front-line workers in the healthcare sector who have been demanding legally enforceable workplace protections for some time.  For so many essential workers in the healthcare sector who have been striking for and seeking judicial enforcement of safety measures for over a year now, the DOL rule is a major victory.

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About Alex Hartzband

Alex Hartzband's practice is focused on employment litigation. Alex is a senior associate in the firm's New York office.

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